Sermon: God must be Crazy 12/13/15

Zephaniah 3:14-20

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing 18as on a day of festival. I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.19I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. 20At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord.

God must be Crazy – A sermon for the third Sunday in Advent [1]

God must be crazy.

That seems to be the obvious conclusion if you read our first lesson.

Did you hear Zephaniah chapter 3?

Never mind that you are probably like me the first time I heard “Zephaniah” and thought “are you sure that is a book of the bible and not a disease?”

Did you really hear it?

In verse 14 – “Rejoice and exult with all your heart or daughter Jerusalem.”

“The LORD is in your midst” in verse 15.

“Do not fear” in v. 16.

Three straight verses of it.

“Rejoice”

“The Lord is in your midst”

“Do not fear”

Our prophet must be crazy. our God must be crazy

You can hear the people of Judah say it. As Zephaniah got up to read these sermons I can just see the people’s confusion

“If this is the word from our God our God must be crazy,” they say.

It had been a long time since there was a good king in Jerusalem. Almost 70 years. 70 years of kings who were looked out only for their own interests and never for who they were supposed to (and you think we have it bad).

God is in our midst? God must be crazy

70 years ago the northern 10 tribes of Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians. The 2 southern tribes of Judah had never really liked them, but they never wanted them conquered either. Now these two tribes were all that seemed left of God’s people.

Rejoice? God is in our midst? God must be crazy

Did you hear that a new king was on the throne of Judah. He’s 8. I’ve known a lot of 8 year-olds in my time. Some really good. Some not so… well you get the point. I haven’t met an 8 year-old ready to run a country though.

Side note: at 8 i was perfectly convinced that I could run the country. Adulthood seems to mean the gradual realization that you can’t be dictator of the world.

Back to Judah. There are so many threats rising in the world. The babylonians have destroyed Assyria and are now coming from the east toward Judah. To the south the Egyptians have invaded before and they will do it again. And you are telling me now we have an 8 year-old kid on the throne.

God must be crazy.

God is in our midst? Do not fear?

Now is precisely the time for fear you can hear the crowd gathered around this random street preacher say. Now is exactly the time to be afraid.

Our first reading today makes us join the crowd in the last third of Zephaniah’s sermon. There are always a few stragglers that walk in as things are wrapping up. We are among them today.

For most of Zephaniah’s sermon he has been naming the issue: fear. And Zephaniah targets two things that come from that fear

First, complacency. The people have become afraid and so they have become complacent. Zephaniah says in chapter 1 verses 12 and 13: “I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs. those who say in their hearts ‘the Lord will not do good nor will he do harm.’ Their wealth shall be plundered and their houses laid waste.”

Out of fear the people have become complacent and so they have forgotten their most basic obligation, their most basic duty: Love toward their neighbor. Our of fear the people have turned from their neighbor and looked out only for their own homes and their own wealth.

At the beginning of chapter three… side note: aren’t you glad my sermons don’t have chapters.

At the beginning of chapter 3 we find the second problem with this fear: the people “have not trusted in the Lord.” They have not “drawn near to their God”

Out of fear the people of God have forgotten their basic responsibilities; their most basic call: their call to trust God and their call to love neighbor. Instead they begin to look for the solution to their problem – in the right military alliance, the right technological solution, the right policy solution. Instead of loving their neighbor the people of God have turned toward themselves – toward their own money, toward how much they can hold on for themselves and their own children only.

“Love your neighbor?” you can hear them say. “trust in God? Do not fear? haven’t seen the times God? Haven’t you seen the front page of cnn.com? God must be crazy.”

It’s easy to join the crowd listening to this sermon. It’s easy because it could be a sermon given to our world.

People of God, I will simply name the issue: we are afraid.

I say we because ordination does grant some great immunity to the world. I, as much as you, experience the relentless beating of fear in our world.

We are afraid of the times, of the news, of mass shootings, of terrorism of the changing culture, of changing politics, of different people and different religions.

Afraid for our jobs, for our security, for our sanity, for our homes, for our lives.

The fear is palpable. You taste it when you walk out your door in the morning.

And our politicians use it. They assume that you will be afraid. They plan their strategies around you being afraid. 

Big business and very wealthy assume you are afraid. They plan on it hoping to sell you something. hoping to make a deal with you.

And in our fear we have fallen into the same trap that Judah did in those days.

In our fear we have become complacent. We given up our most basic responsibilities as the people of God.

Trust in God? Have you seen how my pension has taken a hit? God must be crazy

Trust in God? have you seen how much we have to cut out of our budget? God must be crazy

Trust in God? have you seen how empty the pews seem? God must be crazy

Trust in God? have you seen all the dangers out there? God must be crazy.

In our fear we have failed to trust in God and in our fear we have become complacent and failed to love our neighbors. We have become concerned only with our wealth and our own house

Too afraid to love our Muslim neighbor. We become concerned with only ourselves

Too afraid to love our black or white or Asian or immigrant neighbor. We become concerned with only ourselves

Too fearful to understand why our neighbor may be protesting, why our neighbor may be in pain, why our neighbor may be an addict, why our neighbor may be who he or she is.

I confess to you my own sin brothers and sisters. I read an article that said 21 million people who pay rent, that makes half of all rent payers in this country, are behind in their rent and have their income consumed by just trying to have a place to rest.

I confess this as sin because I only saw this article as I was reading about the Ferrari’s new “entry level car.” For only 199,000 dollars you can have a California T… 538 house power

That is complacency brothers and sisters. Our fear has turned us toward complacency and we have built an economic system, a political system, and a cultural system that turns only inward and away from love of our neighbor.  

Brothers and sisters, we  are afraid.

I promise you though, I wouldn’t be up here, i wouldn’t be reading from this random prophet that I hardly know where his book begins if I didn’t think it had something to say.

Unlike the politicians. Unlike the corporations

God isn’t trying to sell you something

To a fearful people The word of God comes. That precious word comes and says “the Lord is in your midst.”

It such a radical statement Zephaniah has to repeat it just make sure you heard it. “the Lord is in your midst.”

To the people of Judah at this time of external threats, of internal injustice, of economic oppression, this time of failed rulers and failed priests the Word says “the Lord is in your midst. Do not fear!”

To us today. In the midst of economic problems, of retirement problem, or security problems

In the midst of threats, and violence, and shootings.


“The Lord is in your midst. Do not fear!”

In San Bernardino “The Lord is on your midst. Do not fear!”

In Paris “the Lord is in your midst. Do not fear!”

In the places of police shootings: “The Lord is in your midst. do not fear!”

In the places of mass shootings: “the Lord is in your midst. Do not fear!”

In the places of riots and wars: “the Lord is in your midst. do not fear!”

In abandoned buildings and what seems like failed economics “the Lord is in your midst. Do not fear.”

It is the most basic confession of our faith.

It is what John the Baptist, our other prophet, proclaims: one who is more powerful than I is coming” God is coming. the Lord is in your midst.

It is the reason why the Church, in its wisdom, has insisted on not skipping straight to Easter from Palm Sunday and insisted that we go through Friday first: because on the cross we find the ultimate expression of “the Lord is in your midst.” Even in death “the lord is in your midst. do not fear. ”  

I constantly say that I get a lot of strange questions as an inner city pastor. A frequent one is this: aren’t you afraid to work down there? Aren’t you afraid to live in that neighborhood?

All I can think is that I know, not only myself, but an entire congregation that daily proclaims the Lord is in your midst and refuses to be governed by fear. I know you are afraid people of God, but every time you come here for worship and every time you participate in worship here you proclaim how useless the world’s fear is and how much God is in our midst.

So what? God is in our midst? What does it matter?

Did you read v. 17. because on that the whole chapter, the whole sermon, perhaps the message of scripture itself hinges.

“He will renew you in his love.”

The world wants you to believe that fear and hatred can renew you. That if in your fear you turn away from love of God and neighbor you will be given safety and security.

But the world is lying.

We know that the world is lying because we know God’s word – “the Lord is in your midst. Do not fear.” and that matters because God promises to renew us with love when he is in our midst.

Not with violence as many would have us believe. From presidents to prime ministers to senators to governors the promise is that violence will renew you.

It’s a lie

Not with hate as many would have you believe

But God will renew us with love.

I see it every day people of God. This isn’t just pure Disney sentimentality, but every day we see this. when every other institution left this neighborhood this congregation and many others proclaimed that they would not leave. Proclaimed that God was in our midst.

That is being renewed by God’s love

I see in a congregation that turns empty lots into gardens

Renewed in God’s love

I see it in a congregation that is committed to children

Renewed in God’s love.

God must be crazy.

I can’t actually judge for you the truth of that statement… I’m not a doctor… I’m not qualified.

I can tell you this though: the world is trying to make you a deal. It is the same deal that the world has always been offering; the same bargain that Satan has always been trying to get us to take. The deal is this: if you give in to fear and begin to hate your neighbor then you and your house will have safety. If you let your fear control you and start to hate that person who is different from you – different religion, different race, different sexuality, different ideology – than you will have security.

The word of God comes to us today and tells us this: God makes no deals, only promises.  

And that promise is the same from the very beginning when the Word spoke all things into being. the same promise when Adam and Eve walked in the garden, when Abraham first set out on his journey, the same promise that comes to us today and the same promise that will last even to when Christ comes again in beauty and power.

“God is in our midst. Do not fear.”

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. This comes with the usual warning that I am apt to stray from what I have written down for a sermon when I rarely write something down. I can, however, assure you that this is mostly faithful to what got preached on Sunday.

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