This message was delivered through online worship on March 29, 2020.
Songs are often someone’s prayers and sometimes give voice to our own unspoken prayers. One of my Facebook friends shared a link to a Dolly Parton song I’d never heard before. Dolly wrote the song in the wake of 9/11. To quote Vince Gill who introduced her at the CMA awards in Nashville that year, she had seen many others writing patriotic songs and she thought the world needed something more spiritual. The name of the song is “Hello, God?” I’ll put a link to the song on today’s message page on our website, but it starts out like this:
Are You out there?
Can You hear me?
Are You listenin’ anymore?
If we’re still on speakin’ terms
Can You help me like before?
I have questioned Your existence
My resistance leaves me cold
Can you help me go the distance?
I’ve been at that point recently. Haven’t you? That point where we don’t know if God is listening at all because nothing is changing, everything is getting worse, we’re all at each other’s throats about who or what to blame about whatever issue or disaster or decision is in front of us, and we’re not sure what we’ve done to deserve this mess we’re in but here we all are …
In a world limited to communication by telephone, text, email and social media, and despite actions by some to stand in the gaps we find ourselves facing, there are too many in this world right now that are doing more harm than good.
Armchair policy and medical experts able to hide behind their computer monitors and microphones are publishing at warp speed, giving their opinions on everything from the global economy to global politics to such a degree that it’s hard to tell truth from fiction. Too many powers and principalities are taking every advantage to exploit the divisions we were already experiencing before this rogue bit of DNA surfaced in an effort to further their causes. Their hope is to capitalize in political power gains, economic gains, and … for some … to continue to fester and feed sheer outright bigotry.
And far, far, far too many of us are buying what they’re selling.
As the psalmist of today’s scripture wrote, “God, if you should keep count of our iniquities … our moral shortcomings, our unfair behavior toward others … which of us would be able to stand?” It is likely that we would find ourselves being told what Daniel told King Belshazzar in Daniel 5:27 … that we have been measured in the scales and found wanting.
So, let’s all take a minute and think about how we could individually be doing things that cause us to be found wanting and, even more importantly, what we can do to repent … to change direction … to turn around.
There is a Lakota saying often attributed to Crazy Horse. The saying goes, “It’s a good day to die.” Now, most of you hearing this especially in light of all the casualties of the coronavirus will probably think that’s a morbid or careless thing to say, but that’s because most of you hearing this probably don’t understand what it means. It means that … if you done the best you can do, done the most good you can do, if you’ve made things right with anyone you’ve wronged, if your relationship with Creator is in order, then … only then … is it a good day to die.
If not, then you should … as another saying goes … choose to live and die another day. Saying it’s a good day to die is the same as saying, “It is well with my soul.”
Horatio Spafford wrote the Hymn, It Is Well with My Soul, when everything in the world important to him seemed to be crumbling around him. He’d lost his 4-year-old son and most of his fortune in the Great Chicago Fire. He was finishing up business in Chicago and had sent his wife and four daughters ahead to Europe when he received a telegram from his wife. The ship they were on had collided with another ship. The telegram read, “Saved alone …”. All four of his daughters were lost when the boat sank. It was shortly after as he traveled to Europe to join his grieving wife that he wrote the lyrics.
While he didn’t face a global pandemic, Spafford was hit with tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy … and yet … as the song reveals … he understood where the tragedies he’d faced came from and maintained his faith in God.
We need to do the same. We need to maintain our faith in God. We need to trust in the saving power of the blood Christ spilled for us. We need to be faithful to what Jesus taught us.
Jesus taught us again and again and again the Way to turn around, the way to make our souls right with God. He didn’t teach us to try to figure out who or what to blame. He didn’t teach us to panic buy, to hoard, to turn others away. He didn’t teach us that every single bad thing that happens is God’s judgment on mankind. Instead he taught us in John 9 that as a result of when bad things do happen, God’s works will be revealed.
John Wesley simplified the Way for us in his three simple rules I told you about a few weeks ago. Do no harm. Do good always. Stay in love with God.
Doing no harm, doing good always, staying in love with God … we all want to believe that’s what we’re doing. After all, we’re sitting here watching a videotaped church service when we could be playing Minecraft or watching Netflix instead. Isn’t that a pretty good indication of staying in love with God?
Would you be offended if I said, “Wellllll … it’s a start. But … we can all probably do better.” We can all stand to repent … to change directions … to turn around for probably more than we care to admit.
In order for us to turn around … we need to immediately stop doing harm to others. Harm is not limited to barroom brawls, fist fights in the toilet paper aisle at your neighborhood grocery, and the like.
Harm is more often non-physical than physical. Doing no harm means stopping the blame games and finger-pointing … about everything … where this virus started, which party stalled which bill, those emails … you get it … everything.
Doing no harm means being respectful of others’ feelings even if we don’t agree with or like them. It means no more mean or derogatory name-calling. It means no more slurs about their beliefs, their ethnicity, their race, their lifestyles. It means living out the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
Doing no harm means standing up against decisions and laws and actions from our leaders that could oppress or endanger or hurt someone … hurt anyone or any specific group.
Doing good means doing the best we can to help others, to love others, to shelter and protect the least among us, the widows, the prisoners, the strangers, the orphans. It means not getting in the way of those that are doing good. It means preventing others from getting in their way as well. It means being kind, being loving, being as generous as you can.
And staying in love with God? Would you believe me if I told you this one is the hardest, especially for we “Western Christians”? Staying in love with God means putting God first and only and above all others. It means refusing to participate in the idolatry of nationalism or the heresy of false doctrine. It means honoring God and worshipping God with all our hearts and souls and minds.
Getting right with God means admitting to and owning our mistakes. It means making that long awaited apology to someone you’ve wronged. It means accepting that long awaited apology you’ll likely never hear.
Getting right with God means asking His forgiveness and knowing, really knowing, that it is given freely in the wondrous gift of His grace.
We can do better, friends. We can turn things around for ourselves and all others if we just follow the Way that Christ set before us. If we do that, we will find God’s peace in this storm. If we do that, we will be able to say that yes, it is well with my soul.
Holy and Loving God, all life comes from you, and in you all things hold together.
As we remember this, we pause to give you thanks and Praise.
As we remember this, we are reminded that it is You that holds the end from the beginning, and that nothing is too large or too small for You.
As we remember this, remind us that just as you hold all things, so we are held by you, in love.
Help us in our anxious thoughts.
Help us in our day to day lives.
Help us in this time of deep uncertainty.
We acknowledge that at times we are selfish, at times we do not seek you first.
But we know that you are always faithful, merciful, gracious, and forgiving.
We receive your mercy and forgiveness faithfulness and grace.
In the name of Christ.
Scripture Reading: Psalm 130
Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you, there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord, there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
One: The word of God for the people of God.
Many: Thanks be to God.