(Job 34:1-20; Mtt 6:7-15) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Feb 9, 2020 – UBC Digby
Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Askin) is a pop song by Canadians Gordie Sampson, Tenille Townes – who sings it – and American Tina Parol. (2018) It was inspired by a memorial in a school gymnasium to a young athlete who had died in a tragic accident. The chorus of the song says:
If I ever get to Heaven
You know I got a long list of questions
Like how do You make a snowflake?
Are You angry when the Earth quakes?
How does the sky change in a minute?
How do You keep this big rock spinnin’?
And why can’t You stop a car from crashin’?
Forgive me, I’m just askin’
Many people have moments here and now of “just askin’.” Long ago, Job and Elihu talked about the same things. In their case: why has Job’s family, his career, and his body, been destroyed? No reason can be found for him to deserve this.
When bad things happen to good people. We Christians claim to put a lot of prayer into these issues. We celebrate miracles! We look back and can see guidance. We put our confidence in the plans, the will of our God. But the hard questions keep coming.
So, we keep on praying. We pray with the prayer instructions we have been given, including:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
We keep teaching children to pray it in four hundred year old English, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” I wish the English speaking Church in the world could make the switch to contemporary language. Nevertheless, the tradition takes us into obedient praying, to God who delivers us from evil. God is a good power. Good, not evil. Powerful: able to deliver.
This gets at the heart of the challenge, when things go wrong. How can terrible things happen to people? If God is God. If God is good. If God is powerful. “Why can’t you stop a car from crashin’?”
In the days of Job, Elihu rightly stated: (J34:10)
far be it from God that he should do wickedness,
and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.
More than once this is the message of Job’s visitors. Elihu also spoke of the Creator’s power, sustaining all things: (J34:14-15)
If he should take back his spirit to himself,
and gather to himself his breath,
all flesh would perish together,
and all mortals return to dust.
The prayer Jesus gave us, asking to deliver us from evil, starts ‘Our Father in Heaven.” Yet this incredible Holiness, this pure Goodness, is so close – Jesus brings this truth to us.
Baptist scholar, Dallas Willard, taught some interesting things about the Kingdom of the Heavens. He wrote that unfortunately, “Our Father who art in heaven,” has come to mean “Our Father who is far away and much later.” (The Divine Conspiracy, 1997, p. 257)
Willard insisted on translating the plural: ‘the heavens.’ He reminds us of the first century Jewish concept, the levels of the heavens, from far out where the stars are, and beyond, to the sky with clouds, down to the air and wind right around us, that we breathe. These are all part of ‘the heavens.’ Remember Paul’s comment about someone carried off in a vision to “the third heaven,” up there? (2 Cor. 12:2) The first heaven is the atmosphere all around us. Our Father in the heavens can be very near us. The Spirit: as close as the air we breathe. The Power of goodness, available to us. This is the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed!
Delivery from evil also shines thru in this part of the prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
It’s the Presbyterians, at least, who always recite ‘debts and debtors’ in the Lord’s Prayer, isn’t it? We are accustomed to ‘our trespasses and those who trespass against us.’
Twenty five years ago I lived in a beautiful little town. From my house I could see my Church, with a weather vane on it’s pointy spire, I could often see a black horse grazing in a nearby backyard, and I could almost see Donalda’s house. Donalda was a fine neighbour and friend. A Roman Catholic, a creative artist, a good gardener, a sufferer with brain tumors for many years, she was a delightful part of the community. I would see her, from time to time, taking a shortcut across the backyards, instead of just walking the streets and sidewalks to get downtown. When she passed through my yard, I would open the door and call out to her: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.”
I think Donalda, who has now been dead for years, was a person who not only was the gracious, forgiving type, she also expected generosity from her world. When she joined the local garden club, and folks were talking about the practice of digging flowers out of ditches in various places, Donalda happily declared, “The ditches are ours!”
Being forgiven and being forgiving go hand in hand, as these words of our Saviour famously indicate. If you forgive, you will be forgiven. If.
When you or I forgive a person, are we participating in ‘delivering from evil’? ‘Deliver us from evil,’ we pray. Our prayer can grow to become, ‘deliver that person from evil.’ And when we find it in us to pray that, we are asking for the wrong they did, and any repeats of it, to be removed, right?
We who are believers are told in scripture that we have this ministry of reconciliation. Of healing relationships. 2 Corinthians 5. 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ…
It is well known that our message of ‘getting right with God’ includes dealing with the problem of evil. By means for forgiveness. Our story of Jesus is a forgiving story. While Jesus is undergoing execution He speaks: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34)
So this part of the Model Prayer is training us, even transforming us, to be on track with this forgiving power. To be more like Christ. ‘Forgive us our sins / trespasses / debts, as we forgive those who sin / trespass / are indebted to us.
It is a prayer for holiness. It is simply asking for better. Better from within us.
Elihu had said to Job, “according to their ways [God] will make it befall them.” (J34:11) And our deeds of prayer are part of our own journey of reconciliation with God. And with others.
A third point in the Great Prayer that stands out for us today is avoiding evil and wrong.
“And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.”
We usually pray Jesus’ words by saying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” But do we expect our Master to lead us astray? We learn something when we bring this alongside James 1.
13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it…
Our prayers, our longing, our deep hope, is that our Master will guide, and help us follow every bit of guidance! And, when we are already astray on our path, we call for help to get back on track.
Our prayer is not just for ourselves, but for the world of people. Lead us; deliver us.
The edition of Mosaic that just came out, our Canadian Baptist magazine, begins with words from our Executive Director, Terry Smith. He gives an anecdote called ‘Working Above the Waterfall.’ Below the waterfall, a person is swimming but struggling, and trying to get to shore. A bystander gets in and helps him out. Then there is another swimmer in trouble, and another, and another.
Finally, someone goes up above the waterfall, and discovers a footbridge across the river is unstable, leading to so many people falling in above the waterfall.
Working to help people below and above the waterfall is needed. So it is, in our lives of service to others. There is rescue, redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness after trouble and disaster. There is also preventative help, to steer people away from danger. ‘Delivering them from evil,’ so to speak.
This whole edition of Mosaic is about serving kids at risk in this world. Here is one of the stories. (p. 7)
Marie-Joseph was introduced to Terry Smith last year while Terry was visiting a high school in Goma, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR). This nice, neat-looking 17-year-old young man told Terry about his past. Between the ages of 11 and 16, he served as a child soldier with one of the horrific armed militias in the DRC. Through his tears, he described the atrocities he was forced to carry out: torturing women and children, living for months in a state of hypnotic delirium, deprived of life and taking the lives of others. But he was rescued, received trauma counselling and rehabilitated by one of CBM’s local partner churches. Through the faithfulness of God’s people in caring for the vulnerable, even at such great cost, the work of redemption is carried out.
Our CBM theologian, Jonathan Wilson, speaks of three scriptural prayers that we would do well to utter daily as we contemplate the plight of people in our world. “How long, LORD, will the wicked,
how long will the wicked be jubilant?” (Ps. 94:3)
“Rise up, O God, judge the earth.” (Ps. 82:8)
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rv. 22:20)
These three prassages – How long? Rise up, and Come, Lord Jesus – represent a trilogy of Christian prayer in the midst of the fallen world and in the face of evil that is revealed in kids at risk in the world.
Jonathan Wilson concludes: when we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are essentially saying, “How long? Rise up, and Come, Lord Jesus.” (pp. 8-9)
We may have moments when we feel like Job. “It profits one nothing to take delight in God.” (J 34:9) We give up. Let us ask for the faith to know what Elihu spoke: (J 34:12)
Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,
and the Almighty will not pervert justice.
The prayer the Saviour taught was for all the ages, for we shall always need to ask ‘deliver us from evil,’ and we shall always be speaking, until the finale, with the One who is our Deliverer, and Who is not evil.
As a ‘finale’ to this sermon, let me share the Lord’s Prayer, reworked by Dallas Willard.
Dear Father always near us,
may your name be treasured and loved,
may your rule be completed in us–
may your will be done here on earth
in just the way it is done in heaven.
Give us today the things we need today,
and forgive us our sins and impositions on you
as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.
Please don’t put us through trials,
but deliver us from everything bad.
Because you’re the one in charge,
and you have all the power,
and the glory too is all yours – forever –
which is just the way we want it!