Monday, January 26, 2009

Sermon for January 24-25

Life Sunday
January 24-25, 2009
Text: Genesis 18:16-33

Dear Friends in Christ,
What is Life Sunday? It is a solemn commemoration of the great evil perpetrated by the U.S. Supreme Court when it issued the ruling Roe vs. Wade on January 22, 1973. This ruling made it legal to murder the unborn, right up until the time of their birth. Theologians like Francis Schaeffer immediately insisted that the legalization of abortion would inevitably lead to legalization of euthanasia of the elderly and infirm within a generation or two. Today we have a strong euthanasia movement in the United States led by men such as Jack Kevorkian. Several states have now legalized euthanasia under the name “assisted suicide.” We find ourselves today, as a nation, at the same moral crossroads as Germany was in the early days of the Nazi’s. Will the tide of death be turned back? Or will we also descend to same depths of moral depravity as many nations before us? This is the question that we as a nation must answer.

At first glance, this might seem an odd text to Life Sunday. It does‘t talk about the unborn. It doesn’t talk about God as creator. It speaks of God’s wrath and anger. It speaks of God’s role as judge and avenger. Yet, this is a text we would do well to consider at this time.

Our text is part of the greater story of Abraham which covers more than eleven chapters in Genesis - or more than one fifth of the entire book. Abraham had just dined with Christ and two angels. They had told him that in one year, Sarah would give birth to a son. But now Christ in moving on to another matter. He tells Abraham what He intends. He will go down and see if the outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah is as bad as He has seen. Of course He’s God, so it is that bad. Abraham understands in these words that Christ is not just going down to see what the situation is. He’s going down into the valley to do something about it. This is a mission of wrath.

At this point, I think, most people misunderstand what is happening. Abraham asks God if He
would destroy the cities if there were fifty righteous people there? Then he asks Christ, what if it were only forty? And it goes on from there. Abraham is not negotiating with God. Nor does Abraham then go to search for the righteous people. Christ already knows how many righteous people are down there. The inevitable conclusion is that there are no righteous people down there. Even Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family are, at most, marginally righteous. What is happening here is that Abraham is asking to what lengths God will go to protect the righteous.

What does it mean to be righteous. There are two ways to define this. And both are important for us today. First we have the truly righteous - that is those that are righteous before God. Scripture is clear on this. Abraham believed the promises of God and this was counted by God as righteousness. The righteous are the believers. They are those who trust in God. They are those whose sins are forgiven. In other words, the righteous are those who are on their way to heaven - those whom God has saved. The second category of righteousness is that of civil righteousness. This is righteousness before the world. Certainly believers are called to be righteous before the world as well. But there are a good many who are righteous before the world who are not righteous before God. So who are the civil righteous? They are those who are not true believers, but seek to do good and right in the world. It’s sort of the creed of community service clubs. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, there were not even ten people who had civil righteousness.

Now it should be noted that while homosexuality was one of the sins of Sodom, it surely was not the only sin. These were corrupt people consumed by their worldly passions. We can safely assume that the sin of homosexuality that is revealed in chapter 19 of Genesis is only the tip of the iceberg.

Christ is the judge over the living and the dead. He holds the right of judgement in His hand. Many today think of Christ as this milktoast sort guy who’s all about some superficial notion of love. Indeed Christ does love more than we could comprehend. The depth of God’s love is beyond measure. But so too is God’s anger and wrath. God’s hatred of sin and evil is a greater and deeper hatred than man could ever generate. Christ punishes both in earthly terms and in heavenly terms. He does this for the sake of the righteous who might be oppressed or led astray the evil. In this case, it appears that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for the sake of Lot. It’s not that God won’t destroy any of the righteous along with the wicked. But for the sake of a very few righteous, God will stay His anger, at least for a time.

We spend most of our time talking about personal sin and repentance. We spend most of our time talking about how Christ died for our sins and takes us to heaven. And that is right and good. This is where we need to spend most of our time. But on occasion we need to speak of the sins of the nation and our role in them. Just like individuals, God holds nations accountable for their sins. But there is no redemption for nations. Christ only died for persons, not nations. Nations, no matter how great, are only for this life. In fact, nations are, on one level, the result of sin. We need nations and governments to restrain evil in the world. And these are more matters of civil righteousness than heavenly righteousness.

All nations fall into sin, worldliness and decay. Often the decay sets in just at that point where the nation is at the height of its power and glory. In other words when things are very good. This has certainly been the case in the United States. We now live in a nation beset with all manner of sins of worldliness - greed, corruption, power seeking, rampant fornication, homosexuality, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. We have a cult of youth and beauty. We have an aggrandizement of the self. But the civil righteous are those who push back against this. They are those who speak up in defense of the unborn. They are those speak up in defense of marriage. They are those who speak out against pornography. The righteous cry out that women are not walking pleasure machines for men, but real human beings. Abortion is just one part of this larger complex of sins of worldliness. Nor is it enough to speak against these sins, but we are to vote our conscience in elections, and we are to help those trapped in these sins find a good and healthy way out of them. We understand the old saying “There but for the grace of God, go I.” So the end we seek is repentance and restoration. We want to help find options for the young pregnant girl. Then we want to help her change her self image and her life, so she doesn’t feel she has to return to the life sex. We want to help the homosexual come out of that life and return to the life God intended.

When God looks down on the United States, how many righteous does He see? Are we among them? Are we living up to God’s command to be salt and light in the world? God will continue to preserve this nation for a time, for the sake of the righteous. But if the righteous are silent, and thus become unrighteous, God’s preserving hand will be withdrawn, as we have seen countless times in Scripture and throughout the history of the world. Some might say, what is the use, we are in the minority? We can’t change things. That doesn’t matter. The righteous must still speak against the worldliness of our nation, and in defense of the helpless and voiceless. It might not matter to Barrack Obama, David Obey or anyone like that. It will matter to Christ. And that is what is most important.

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