Let it Roll
Sermon Title”Let it Roll” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden
Good morning! My trip to church at Creekside takes me past several churches — at least three or four, depending on my route. One of those churches has a digital electronic sign which can scroll different messages: a little higher tech than the movable letters on the sign at the end of our driveway. For a couple of months, the sign said this: It’s a settled fact; God is fully in control of our world.
The first time I saw that, I thought, Amen! That is a reassuring statement of faith. But as I drove past those words day after day, they began to sit less comfortably with me and have raised some questions which I want to raise with you this morning. I’m not sure the intent of the sign was to raise questions — starting out by stating that something “is a settled fact” doesn’t exactly invite discussion — but I believe exploring questions is how we learn more about ourselves and about God; which is a pretty important thing to do.
So here’s my first question — maybe it’s yours, too: if God is fully in control of our world, what about the bad things which happen? to individuals, states, or whole countries? If you have just gotten a cancer diagnosis, does that mean that God doesn’t like you? Or that maybe you stepped out of line one too many times, and this is your punishment? What about all the folks in Florida who just got walloped by Hurricane Ian; or the folks who lost their homes, or even their lives after catastrophic flooding in Kentucky this summer? How about the people of Ukraine, whose country has been invaded and destroyed by Russia? Is God fully in control of Vladimir Putin?
Which leads me to another question, or set of questions. If God is fully in control of our world, do we have free will? Can we actually choose what we do and say, or is God controlling that process? Moving the strings to make us do and say what God wants. And if God is controlling what we say and do, then why do people — including me — say and do stupid, and sometimes hurtful, things? If God were fully in control, wouldn’t God know enough to shut me up sometimes?
And here’s my final set of questions (I know this is a lot of questions; remember, I’ve been thinking about this on my way to work for weeks): If God is fully in control of our world, do we have to do anything? I mean, it’s all God’s will, right? We should probably just try to keep out of the way so God can do His thing.
Before you leave today and go tell your friends that your pastor doesn’t believe in the power of God, I want to try and bring a bit of nuance to the statement that God is fully in control of our world. I want to do this by sharing the words of the prophet Amos. The book of Amos is tucked in the end of the Old Testament with other minor prophets whom we may visit so seldom that we forget how to pronounce their names: folks like Habakkuk, and Haggai. They’re ‘minor’ because their writings are relatively short, not because they’re playing in a different league than heavy hitters like Isaiah and Jeremiah. The passage which Anne read from Amos Chapter 5 may sound familiar because it echoes Micah 6:8, which many Brethren know, and because this passage from Amos was used by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the American Civil Rights movement. This is God speaking, and God is not too happy. The first words are, “I hate, I despise your festivals, I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” God goes on to disparage burnt offerings and harp music. Who doesn’t like harp music?
This passage is not about the specifics of what instruments we use in worship; it is about worship ritual, and specifically going through the motions of worship in order to demonstrate to God and other how devout we are, and then sticking it to the poor the other six days of the week. Amos’ message is: God is not deceived. The day of the Lord is coming, and you are not gonna like it. I believe the witness of Amos, and all the post-exilic prophets is that God is in control. God has a purpose for God’s people and for the world and God will not be dictated to by us going through the motions of worship rituals. Worship should be our natural response to power and glory of God: it is never, let me repeat that, never to be used to make ourselves look good, or to get God to do what we want. There is only one way I know of to get God to do what we want. Here’s how we get God to do what we want. Are you ready? The way to get God to do what we want is for us to want what God is doing. See what I did there? It is not God who needs to change course, God set this course from the very beginning. We need to get on board with God’s program, and that Amos tells us, is justice and righteousness. Micah says, do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
I believe that God created the world and has a plan for the world, and that plan will happen whatever obstacles are in the way: evil, human sin, suffering, drought, flood or fire. We are not outside of that plan, we are a part of it. Not only our own personal redemption and salvation, but the way we treat other people. When systems of injustice and oppression need to be dismantled, we are part of that work. That is one of the ways in which we hunger and thirst for righteousness, not only so we are filled, but so there is enough to go around. I believe these are choices God allows us to make, and we have the chance to make them repeatedly. Every choice to pray, to advocate, to work for justice, to model compassion, and to confess where we have fallen short, is a choice to let God’s justice roll through us and into our interactions with others.
We have the opportunity — the choice — this morning to come to the Lord’s table. Coming forward for a piece of bread and sip of juice is a way to demonstrate our hunger and thirst for righteousness; our desire to want what God is doing, and to change what we’re doing, if it doesn’t align with God’s agenda. But communion is more than that. Communion is participation in the body of Christ. We in the Church of the Brethren do not believe that this bead and juice become the actual physical body and blood of Christ, but deeply embedded in our understanding of the church is that we become the body of Christ — many members, many gifts working together for the purpose of God. Today we remember that Christ’s body is larger than the people in this space or in this building. Larger than the people in this denomination or this country. The body of Christ is anywhere and everywhere that believers hunger and thirst for righteousness and commit themselves to God’s purpose. We are invited to the Lord’s table to represent our desire for righteousness, but we live that out in the ways we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. We live that out by wanting what God is doing.
Today, Christians around the world will be sharing in the bread and cup and affirming their participation in the body of Christ. The bread which we will be suing at Creekside is Ukrainian bread, as an expression of solidarity and commitment to justice for the people of Ukraine. We affirm the humanitarian aid which the Church of the Brethren has partnered with international organization to offer. If you are worshiping with us by LiveStream, I invite you to prepare your own elements for communion now. Here in person there will be a gluten-free option for bread — remind me that’s what you would like if I forget. The cups are filled with grape juice. If children would like to come forward, they will receive grapes and crackers and a blessing. If you have a particular place or group of people in this country or in the world which you would like to pray for when you take communion this morning, you may tell me that when you come forward for the bread. That needs to be short — just a few words — but wherever you are hungry for justice and righteousness is where the body of Christ is needed. Thank you for holding these situations and these people in prayer as you commit to walk with God.