Friday, July 24, 2015

The Rising Tide of Evil

I mentioned in my adult Bible study last Sunday that we are witnessing a rising tide of evil. I pointed them to an article in the Huffington Post that lists the mass murders occurring between 2009-2013.

This week we've had two massacres in Oklahoma and Louisiana.  The week before it was four Marines in Chattanooga and five females in California. In June it was nine killed in South Carolina. It's getting hard to keep up with all the carnage, and worse, we're being desensitized to it.

Many people try blame the massacres on lax gun control laws. But we've had semi-automatic weapons for years. That cannot be the main cause of this problem. Others blame it on mental health problems. But that also raises important questions: Are mental disorders on the increase? Did we have as many mentally disturbed people twenty five or fifty years ago? Suicide rates have actually declined since the 1950s.

There is an explanation which many do not want to hear: The problem is the problem of evil, and evil is on the rise.

Without a doubt there is another statistic that coincides with the rise of mass murders and that is the rising tide of unbelief in our country. In 2012 the Pew Research Poll shocked us by showing a dramatic increase in the number of Americans who used to be Christians but no longer identify as such. Is there a correlation between the two? Probably, but true correlations are difficult to lock down.     Correlation or no correlation, there is something very bad happening.

The really sad thing is that our culture doesn't even want to consider the possibility of a correlation. That's because in the culture of unbelief there can be no such thing as evil. Try debating with an atheist, and you'll soon find that out. If they admit the existence of evil, they would have to admit to the existence of the spiritual. This is something they cannot tolerate.

Will America consider the possibility that there might indeed be a rising tide of evil? Will you? What can be done about it?

I spoke about this in my Reformation sermon on October 28, 2012. In that sermon I pointed out that the world has witnessed rising tides of unbelief and evil before. God has given us a response, and that is the response of the Gospel. The only thing that can stand up to evil is the truth of God's Law and Gospel. God help us to hold to it ourselves, and God help us to proclaim it to the world around us.

I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness
In the great assembly;
Indeed, I do not restrain my lips,
O Lord, You Yourself know.

I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart;
I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation;
I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth
From the great assembly.

Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O Lord;
Let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me.

For innumerable evils have surrounded me;
My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up;
They are more than the hairs of my head;
Therefore my heart fails me.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me
Psalm 40.9-13

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Psalm 121 God Is Always Watching

Sermon from Evening Prayer, Wednesday, July 1, 2015, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, Illinois

1. I will lift up my eyes to the hills—

From whence comes my help?
2.  My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
3.  He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4.  Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5.  The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6.  The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7.  The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
8.  The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

This is a beautiful psalm that has been a great source of strength and inspiration for many Christians. Next to Psalm 23 it is probably one of the most memorized psalms. Parts of this psalm have been enshrined in both the liturgies for baptism and funerals. The psalm easily applies to almost any part of the journey of life.

There are a few interesting things about this psalm. First, is is part of a group of psalms called the Psalms of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) that were probably sung by Israelites as they made their annual trips to Jerusalem for worship. Jerusalem is truly a city built on a hill therefore you always "go up to Jerusalem" no matter which direction you take to get there. 

This psalm may have been a "farewell liturgy" sung by those who were leaving for Jerusalem and by those who were not traveling (perhaps because of their weakness or other needs to stay home). The first two verses are in the first person, "I will lift of my eyes..." But beginning in the third verse the psalm switches to the third person, "He will not allow your foot to be moved..."  

Luther was interested in third verse. Regarding the thought that God is not paying attention, he wrote that this psalm teaches us... "that we should remain steadfast in faith and await God’s help and protection. Because even though it appears that God is sleeping or snoring...this is certainly not so, despite the way we feel and think. He is surely awake and watching over us."

The sixth verse has always interested people: "The sun shall not strike you by day or the moon by night."  Charles Schultz wrote a Charlie Brown cartoon about this:

The most important part of the psalm is the repetition of the word "keep" or "preserve." Notice that in the New King James Version above three times it is translated "keep" and three times it is translated "preserve." The word shamar in Hebrew means "to keep attentive watch" as in Psalm 127.1 "Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain." 

I would especially like to tie this thought in with last Sunday's sermon on Mark 5.36, Jesus' words to Jairus: "Don't be afraid; only believe." I pointed out that those who doubt God often complain: "Why doesn't God get rid of all the evil in the world?" But their question should really be rephrased: "Why doesn't God get rid of all the evil in the world right now?" There's a difference. The historical record shows that God has gotten rid of evil many times and that He is always doing this. Jesus healed many people to show the ultimate goal of His forgiveness. All of us know there are times in life when God has saved us. I remember a particular incident in my life when I was racing with my bicycle against a small scooter that was carrying my dad and another man. Gradually the scooter pulled away, but in my zeal to stay with it, I ran right through a stop sign and was horrified to hear screeching tires.  I had come so close to death except that the driver was alert and saw me in the nick of time. Or, rather, God was alert and watching over me and guided that driver to see me and to slam on the brakes. 

Psalm 121 is a good psalm for us to sing often. It is a constant comfort and reminder to us that God is always watching, protecting and preserving. 

See also:  Matthew 10.29-31; Philippians 4.7; 1 Thessalonians 4.23; 2 Thessalonians 3.3; 2 Timothy 4.18; Jude 1.1

Sermon: "Do We Trust God or Trash Him?" Mark 5.21-43" Print and Audio  June 28, 2015

Here is a hymn based on Psalm 121. It was in The Lutheran Hymnal #538 "Now the Shades of Night Are Past" Tune: Vienna

Now the shades of night are gone,
Now the morning light is come.
Lord, may we be Thine today;
Drive the shades of sin away.

Fill our souls with heav’nly light,
Banish doubt and cleanse our sight.
In Thy service, Lord, today
Help us labor, help us pray.

Keep our haughty passions bound,
Save us from our foes around;
Going out and coming in,
Keep us safe from ev’ry sin.

When our work of life is past,
Oh, receive us then at last!
Night of sin will be no more
When we reach the heav’nly shore.

According to The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal, this hymn was written by a Mohican Indian named Sampson Occom (Occum, Ockum) in 1770. It was first published in the Congregational Collection, Hartford, 1799.