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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Depending on God for True, Lasting Peace

Dependence Day (Zechariah 9:10)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A little over a week ago, Candy and I were in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We stayed at the Yebsabi Guest House, which has four floors with four rooms on each floor for a total of 16 room. Sixteen rooms occupied by American families adopting children from Ethiopia or Rwanda. The Rwanda families have to complete their adoptions at the U.S. embassy in Addis.

Many meals are shared together at the guest house. Families are constantly coming and going. Some have just met their kids and praying to pass court. Others have passed court, have children in custody, and are waiting for the papers from the embassy so they can bring their new kids home to the United States.

Then there are those who have completed all the formalities are just waiting for the ride to airport. The stay for adoption in Ethiopia can be short as a few days or as long as a couple of months. The conversation among those who have been there a long time always turns back to America.

I can’t wait to be able to drink water out of the faucet.

The first thing I am going to do is go buy a cheeseburger.

Man, I miss my bed.

We who adopt love Ethiopia. We love that nation, the people there, the children. But, we also love America. We miss it too. Most American couples I’ve met in other places in the world are pretty to return. When we were first home, I was struck by a profound thought.

I am standing in my yard. Twenty-four hour ago, I was surrounded by the incredible convergence of humanity at the Addis Airport. I saw people from all over – Arabs, Muslim Africans, Christian Africans, Europeans – all gathered in that place. Now, it’s a quiet Saturday, and I am in my yard, on my street, at my home in the United States.

Whenever I think of America and of special days in our country – Independence Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day – I am filled gratitude. I appreciate that this is where I am from.

Pausing to ponder America, I am also filled with love. I love baseball. I love that I can drive from here to Seattle and back, and I don’t need my passport or any papers – just my driver’s license. I love that I can vote. I don’t always love voting. I don’t always love the choices. But I love that I have the choice. I love that in our country, people from different racial backgrounds and ethnic heritages can be the mayors of cities, governors of states, and president of the nation. I love America. It is where I am from.

It is not where I am headed. Neither is America where you are bound if you follow the leading of Jesus. Jesus is not pro-democracy. Jesus is leading us into a kingdom where God is king. Jesus is not pro-equality. We are each gifted differently. Our responsibility is not to outperform our peers in business or academic accomplishment or income acquired or popularity. Jesus does not promote a system in which we all each an equal chance to succeed those who work the hardest and do the best get the rewards. That’s not what Jesus stands for at all.

Jesus promotes a system where each is gifted by God. And we do the most that we can with gifts we are given for the sake of praising God, glorifying God, and spreading His love and salvation in the world. Some of us have more gifts than others, but our only responsibility is to rely on Jesus and do as much as we can with the gifts we’ve been given.

Blessings – life, relationship, meaning, purpose, joy, vision – blessings are given abundantly by God, at God’s pleasure. Both forgiveness of our sins (and we all sin), and blessing are things God gives. That doesn’t fit well with the American dream of rugged individualism. The Gospel’s economy of grace doesn’t jive with America’s self-serving capitalism. So, which gets our loyalty?

As I said at the outset, I love America, and as I long as I live this life, my nationality will be American. I won’t be a South American. I won’t be a generic North American. I am from the United States of America. But, who I am is a follower of Jesus Christ – the one in whom all peoples of all nations are one.

A lot of Christians in our nation proclaim through misty, teary eyes, “God Bless America!” Really? In scripture, God blessed Israel as God’s chosen nation. Israel was enslaved by Egypt, bullied by Philistia, slaughtered by Assyria, taken to exile by Babylonia, violated by the Ptolemies, and subdued by Rome. For almost 2000 years, Israel was lost as an independent nation. Then, after World War II, Israel was re-created. I don’t associate the modern political state of Israel with the Biblical Israel that was called out by God. But let’s say it is one in the same. Today, Israel is in a constant state of war, and is surrounded by nations that would like to annihilate her. That’s the country God blessed. Really? God bless America?

John the Baptist was blessed to be the one God raised to pave the way for Jesus. John spent his final years rotting in Herod’s cell before he was beheaded. Peter was blessed to be the leader of the 12 disciples. Legend has it his end came when he was crucified upside down. A wealthy young ruler begged Jesus for the blessing of eternal life. Jesus told him to go sell all that had and give the money to the poor and then come and follow. Jesus offered the blessing of discipleship.

What are we asking for when say, “God bless America?” I think most of the time people say that because they want America to be the most powerful nation on earth – power being seen in military might and economic dominance. We want to preserve our freedoms and our prosperous way of life. We don’t care that 10 3rd world families don’t use as many natural resources as one American. We’re not worried about our carbon footprint or the suffering that happens elsewhere. We want to be the freest, the strongest, the richest, the best, the happiest, and the most powerful, the most feared. And we think if we have all these things, then we are blessed.

Why is it that whenever Jesus talks about blessing, sacrifice is involved. And I don’t mean sacrifice of the military to preserve our way of life. I mean sacrifice made by the individual disciple. I mean sacrifice that says to Jesus, “All that I have is yours – my bank account, my car, my house, my family.” That’s what Jesus wants from us – everything.

How different would it look if in fact, “God blessed America?”

The Bible is full of pictures of God’s blessing; today, we turn to the late Old Testament prophet, Zechariah. He lived after the Babylonian exile. Israel had been crushed. Many Hebrews fled and lived throughout the world – in Greece, in Northern Africa, in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). The royalty, the highly educated, the young, and the rich and talented were taken off in chains to Babylon where they stayed for an entire generation. Solomon’s magnificent temple was reduced to rubble. King Zedekiah was forced to watch as his sons were executed. Then his eyes were cut out and he was led into slavery. The only ones who remained in Israel were the poor, those who were stooped with age, and the crippled. For fifty years, they lived on the brink of starvation.

How exactly is this a picture of God’s blessing? Zechariah will show us. He came along after the exile. Babylon was eventually overcome by a rival empire the Persians. Persian Emperor Cyrus was able to acquire allies because he persuaded nations that living under Persian was for their benefit. The Assyrians and then the Babylonians demolished all who resisted them. Cyrus invited those before him to join him and prosper in doing so. In this way, he was able to amass an army that defeated and Babylon and ended that empire.

There was no “Red Sea” moment when Israel returned from exile in Babylon. Nehemiah and Ezra were able to lead the Jews home to Jerusalem because Cyrus gave them permission. The prophets in those days after exile were Haggai and Zechariah.

Zechariah’s prophetic poetry is among the richest in the Bible and I recommend this prophet to you. This morning, we narrow in on one verse, chapter 9, verse 10. The contrast between the blessings of God and bombastic American independence are obvious.

Zechariah says, “I [God] will cut off the Chariot from Ephraim and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and [God] shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Naming Ephraim, an allusion to the Northern Kingdom, and then Jerusalem, which is the capital of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, Zechariah here addresses his words to everyone in Israel.

The scope of the vision goes beyond the confines of the nation’s borders. Zechariah’s message extends to Jews everywhere; but not only to Jews. God will command peace to all nations. It’s not enough to call this man just another obscure Old Testament prophet. Zechariah was a visionary who spoke God’s word, God’s reality. All the nations of the earth would fall under God’s reign because God is sovereign, all-powerful.

God does this. This peace is not something achieved by human beings, by nations of the earth, or by Christian peacemaking teams. We can try whether through military might that acts as a deterrent or through alternate approaches like pacifism, but we cannot bring peace. Human violence began in Genesis 4, when Cain killed Abel. Ever since the earth has cried out to God with the shed blood of victims of warfare and violence. Our beloved United States became a nation in a bloody civil war that involved colonists, the British, the French, and Native Americans. Today, our nation is at war in Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Supposedly, there are no other superpowers. But we cannot stay out of war; not by our own efforts. Peace only comes from God.

Zechariah 9:10 declares God will bring peace, and verse 16 says, “On that day, the Lord their God will save them for they are the flock of his people.” The actor is God and the ones acted upon are those who stop rebelling and in humility bow before God and in gratitude receive all that He gives.

Two weeks ago, I talk about us – the people of HillSong Church who worship God as He is revealed in Jesus Christ – conspiring with God to make beautiful things in the world whether our work is teaching students, building houses, or managing our own families. To join God in the creation of beauty is the calling of a disciple.

Last week Heather talked to us about living in faith that is so complete we give everything to God, even our own precious children. We entrust God will with all, as an act of faith. To live in such faith is the calling of disciple.

Today, we hear another call to all disciples. We are called to live in dependence upon God. Doing so won’t end the bombing in Libya or bring our troops home from Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever the next conflict is. To depend on God is to see that the Libyans, Afghans, and Iraqis matter to Him as much as do the Americans. To depend on God is to live the peace of His kingdom in the midst of a world that is fallen, violent, and bent on destruction. To depend on God is to seek God’s blessing for America knowing it would make America very different that it is today, but trusting that it would be better. To depend on God is to stay near God because peace only comes from God, in God’s presence.

Jesus approached the city Jerusalem knowing he would be executed there on a cross in a few days.

41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

He wept over the city because they did not see Him and therefore fell into darkness, pain, and chaos. The story is different when we let go of our own plans and instead declare our dependence on Jesus. If we are to walk as disciples and enjoy God’s peace, that’s the thing to do. Watch the fireworks, enjoy the barbeques and baseball, and say the pledge. Do all of it this weekend. But right now and going forward in our lives, may we declare our dependence on God, revealed in Jesus Christ, present in the world in the form of the Holy Spirit. May we declare our dependence to the one whose dominion is from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.


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