Saturday, October 15, 2005

SERMON: I Don't Know Why

Several months ago I was asked to give a sermon for the Friday night meeting that our language institute sponsors every week. I'm not a preacher, but I decided I could give them what was on my mind. Here's what happened:

I Don’t Know Why

I don’t know why God wants to be with you and me forever, but He does. I don’t know why Jesus was willing to die on the cross for me, but He was. I don’t know why He cares so much about us, but He loves. I don’t know why He chooses to use frail and faulty humans to do his work on this planet, but that is in fact exactly what He does.

Let me say that again. I don’t know why God chooses to use frail and faulty humans like you and me to do His work on this planet, but He does. I don’t know what God’s plan is for you, but I know you are the person He’s trying to use to work out His goals for our world.

Let me share about the time this began to be more real to me. I had been reading about some severe cases of emotional and physical pain, and I was thinking about the suffering in our world. Over time I had become more and more frustrated with God for allowing it.

Finally, in prayer I said straight out, “God, how can you allow all of this suffering?”

And God shot back, “Jeff, how can you?”

In the quiet stillness, those words echoed in my mind. “God, why don’t you do something to stop this?” “Jeff, why don’t you?”

Since God’s work is done through human hands, let’s look at God’s priorities to know what actions He would have us do for Him and for his children. Let’s look at God’s priorities in the Bible, and let’s see what those look like when they are lived out in real life on planet Earth.

God’s priorities

Micah 6:8 shows us a summary of God’s priorities:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (New King James Version)

Our mission then is to spread these things. He’s trying to work through us to give more justice, more mercy, and more love to this world. Let’s see how God works through real people, real frail and faulty people.

Three Examples (From Good News about Injustice, By Gary Haugen)

In Sister K’s country there is a lot of money being made in forced prostitution. The police protect it and even hunt down girls who try to run away. Sister K. is personally aware of almost sixty brothels where she has found hundreds of girls as young as 13 and 14 years old kept there by ‘whip, fist, boot and bulldog.’

A government investigator visited just one brothel and stated that there was ‘no necessity for state interference in the matter.’ But Sister K. knows differently.
She has learned that one of the women held in prostitution was actually murdered by being soaked in oil and burned alive. The coroner’s report of her death even named the murderer. It read: “Burned to death by W. H. Griffin.” But the man was never charged with a crime. Local politicians prevent any legal action from being taken. What can Sister K. do?

In Brother E.’s country abusive child labor is widespread. Where he lives, about two million children between the ages of ten and fifteen years old work in textile mills, tobacco-processing plants, mines and other factories. Children work twelve hours a day, six days a week, sometimes on dangerous night shift. One person describes the scene this way: the children of the breakers and the mills are “stooped and skinny, often missing thumbs and fingers and always giving the impression of being older than they were. Only when they were maimed so seriously that they can no longer work did such children attend school.” What can Brother E. do?

In Sister J.’s country execution by mobs is a way of life. The majority ethnic group maintains its dominance over the minority ethnic group through the intimidation of violent murder. Every year 50 - 100 people are burned alive or hanged after being accused of committing some offense against the majority ethnic group. These brutal events are public; they are not secret. They are often performed in the presence of local officials. Local police refuse to help the victims and occasionally participate. What can Sister J. do?

Kate, Edgar, and Jessie are actually Christians of the past century from the same country. What country? The United States of America. Let’s revisit these people and problems.

Sister K. = Kate Bushnell
Dr. Bushnell was heart-broken by girls’ stories. The brothels of forced prostitution were in the logging camps and mining communities of northern Wisconsin and Michigan in the 1880s. Dr. Bushnell looked for someone to help these girls, but no one would take the risks involved. She personally researched the conditions by getting into the brothels in creative ways. When she reported her findings, the state of Wisconsin denied her stories and tried to discredit her research. When she appeared before the Wisconsin state legislature, she had to be escorted by police because of threats of violence against her.

Eventually, Wisconsin legislature adopted a law that dealt specifically with this issue. It was called “the Kate Bushnell Bill.” Later she took her Christian witness to India and China. There she and other Christians confronted the British government and colonies about the trafficking of women and girls in forced prostitution.

Proverbs 31:8-9 8 "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy." (New International Version)

Brother E. = Edgar Murphy
Reverend Murphy was a minister in Alabama. He was burdened by the oppression of tens of thousands of children under age fourteen who worked in the textile mills of the American South. He did not despair, and in 1901 he founded the Alabama Child Labor Committee. He wrote 9 pamphlets and distributed 28,000 copies throughout the US at his on expense. Finally, in 1907 Alabama issued legislative restrictions on child labor, and this helped the rest of the country deal with this more directly.

“He defended the cause of the poor and needy…. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 22:16)

Jessie Daniel Ames
Between 1900 and 1920 thousands of African-American citizens were publicly lynched—including almost 100 women. Between 1918 and 1921, 28 African-Americans were burned at the stake by mobs. As late as the 1940s lynching was still a common in the Southern states.
It was Jessie Ames and other white, Christian women who led the fight against this injustice.
In 1930 with only 12 other ladies, she created the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching (ASWPL). By the early 1940s, 109 women’s associations, representing 4 million women, supported the ASWPL’s work.

They physically confronted mobs, called sheriffs when mobs formed, and visited local jails. ASWPL exposed the names of officers who did not uphold the laws when lynchings did occur. If you research this group, you’ll find that these women were not perfect in attitude and deed, but they bravely took the next step in securing justice against powerful odds.

Galatians 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I don’t know why, but God’s work of justice and mercy is worked out through human hands—through your hands and mine. I don’t know why. But maybe you have some ideas.

What can we do? What is needed here? How can we show love in our own neighborhoods? The examples from the U.S. involved justice and mercy. Let me share a few short, local examples of love that are a little different—they involve compassion and mercy.

Some members of the language institute family spent part of winter break sharing food with homeless people at Seoul Station. Each person gave some money and time to the project, and the staff at Mandu Maul cooked an enormous amount of food. I can brag about this because I didn’t actually do anything. All the work was finished when I joined the group. I just went to hang out. At the station, we met another group of Christians who had been bringing meals there three times a week for seven years. International Church, Pathfinders, Echoes, and other groups here also do this same type of sharing on occasion.

Visa laws are restrictive for foreign workers. In the U.S. Charissa and I had the opportunity to spend some time helping groups like Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, and other organizations. Here, we must confine our activities to the SDA Institute or else we violate our E2 visas. But you are free. You can work with ADRA, World Vision, independent orphanages, and a whole list of organizations.

Finally, a more personal story of love in action.

I get lost easily. Charissa is the navigator of our home. Well, I had a doctor’s appointment one morning, and Charissa couldn’t go with me. Since a couple transfers were involved, we were both a little worried.

I was waiting at Hoegi Station, when someone touched me from behind. It was Nick! We’d been in religion class together the previous term. We talked, and he volunteered to help me find the hospital. He even stayed and translated for me during the appointment. But he didn’t do this just once. He volunteered to help me for two more days until my treatment was completed. That is love in action. That is being a disciple of Jesus.

That night I told Charissa about meeting Nick. “I’m so glad. I was praying that God would send you an angel.” Then I realized that earlier in the afternoon, “an angel” was exactly what I had called Nick. Nick’s heart was open to being used by God to show me kindness and to help me.

“The King [Jesus] will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

And this is the final idea for the night. There are many reasons to follow Jesus. But I believe the main reason to be Jesus’ disciple is to learn to love more. If you want to love more fully; if you want God to use you to spread justice and love and compassion in this world, then please quietly rededicate your heart tonight to Jesus. Rededicate yourself to learning from Him how to love more fully.

I don’t know why He trusts us with His important work, but He does. As soon as we say Yes to Him, He is ready to work through us to finish His work here. He wants to spread His love through us.

John 13:34-35 34 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (New International Version)

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