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Calling Out to God

August 21, 2022

Calling Out to God

Passage: Psalm 34:17
Service Type:

Dwight A. Moody ........

 

“The Lord hears the people when they call out to God for help.
The Lord rescues them from all their troubles.” ........

 

 

I know what this means: calling out to God for help. We all have times and seasons where we need help: from friends, from strangers, from God.

But I don’t know what that means: rescued from our troubles! I know what it means to be sustained through our troubles, but I don’t know what it means to be rescued from our troubles. Unless it means the three times in my life when a terrible car crash should have taken my life but did not; or the time I was offered a new and better job than the pastorate that was dissolving into a congregational shootout; or the times too many to name when my ignorance, arrogance, or stubbornness should have ended any professional career, but did not!

Yes, God rescued me from these could-have-been disasters. And that may be what this promise means. But I don’t know, because bad things happen to good people, and the good intentions and efforts of people often get reversed and end up causing problems.

I don’t know because I have not been rescued out of all my troubles—"I’ve got heartaches by the number, troubles by the score,” as Willie sings.

But I will preach today about what I know: “The Lord hears people when they call out to God for help.” God hears you and hears me.

What God hears burdens God. God suffers when we suffer. God weeps when we weep. God is troubled when we are troubled. The poet said it well when he wrote, “The sorrows of God must be hard to bear if ‘e really has love in his heart.”

But it is that love, the love of God, which invites us to call out to God for help.

 

I.

We call out to God on behalf of our nation.

We love the United States of America. We love the values of our nation, of equality and justice, of freedom and opportunity, of hospitality and community.  We love the beauty of our nation, “from California to the New York island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters.” So sang Woody Guthrie for all of us. We love the people of our nation: native Americans and immigrants, red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in our sight.

But we know about our failures.

And today there is economic strain and political stress. People are dying by gunfire and people are………….. .

I heard the esteemed pastor preacher, activist, and community organizer Jim Wallis say this week, “Our democracy is in danger. We are nearer a civil war that any time since the 1850s.” The rhetoric does alarm us. The phrase “civil war” has doubled in use since the FBI search in Mar-a-Lago. Gun sales and gun violence disturbs us. There have been more than 400 mass shootings in the United States this year.

It intensifies our desire to pray for our leaders.  For two years, I have joined a small group of praying people. We join Zoom from six or seven states. We pray for school superintendents, for majors and county judges, for corporate executives and union presidents, for judges at all levels, for state and federal senators and representatives, for the president and his team. The gospel commands us to do this, to pray for all who are in high places. We call out to God for peace, for understanding, for common sense, for relief from this season that oscillates between shock and silliness.

But even as we endure this epoch of political polarization and global pandemic, we recognize the good news, the glad news, the hopeful news. We live in a nation with a strong economy and low unemployment. We enjoy stable institutions including universities, corporations, law enforcement, and thousands of engaged and active non-profits like the Red Cross. We are free to gather in thousands of churches, temples, and mosques. Our schools are full of children, youth, and scholars, with research institutes and medical centers. We enjoy thousands of new books every week, movies and television and Netflix. And best of all—football.  Are you ready for some football?  The NFL is the most popular pastime in the United States.

As we pray for our nation, let’s remember how blessed we are and now desperate millions of people are to come to the United States to work, to study, to heal, to rest, to enjoy the wonders of our nation. Let’s pray with hope and live with hope and worship with hope. After all, Matthew Cawthorne is near the end of his embarrassing tenure as our U S representative. There is always hope!

 

II.

 

We call out to God on behalf of our church.

We are twenty-one years old—that’s old enough to drink, right? Let’s lift a glass to survival! This summer the Wake Forest Baptist Church on the campus of the university announced it is calling it quits. Same for Long Branch Baptist Church in Georgetown where I peached for four days in February of 2001. But we are surviving and thriving! Sing for joy and live with hope.

We survived some serious congregational dissension.  We survived the world-wide pandemic called COVID.  We are surviving a massive shift in the way American people connect, and organize, and collaborate. Membership and attendance everywhere is down, down, down: ball games and shopping malls, civic clubs and congregations.

We call out to God for our church, our Providence Church. We want to survive and thrive. We want to do the gospel work God has called us to. We want to feed the hungry and teach the Word.  We want to welcome the stranger and preach the Good News. We want to sing for Joy and live with hope.

We want to embrace the new way of being the people of God. These are consequential times for the Christian community in the United States. We are being challenged by the heresy of Christian nationalism. Some are tearing down the wall of separation between the church and government. The United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church are in severe conflict. Too many in the Catholic Church reject the changes of the Second Vatican Council.  There is too much conflict among Christians and not enough cooperation.

We call out to God for our Christian brothers and sisters, for our church and for other churches, for all people who look to God for faith, hope, and love.

We are ready for the future that God is preparing for us. We call out to God for vision, and faith, and courage. Maybe in this context we need to pray this prayer. God, give us the courage to change what we can about who we are, the serenity to accept to accept what we cannot change about us, and the wisdom to know the difference!!

I urge all of us to call out to God for our church: those at the center who are regular in giving, attending, watching, and serving; those on the circumference who feel a connection of some sort—of friendship, of mission, even of membership—but are not engaged much in the life and work of the church; and even those in our virtual orbit—who watch as often as possible live on Sunday morning or later in the week. Our church is like many others, with concentric circles of people connected in some way. Pray for our church. Call out to God that we might know Christ and the power of his resurrection, that we might sing for joy and live with hope, that we might love and understand one another, that we might survive and thrive in the work God has called us to. Help us, O Lord.

 

III.

 

We call out to God on behalf of ourselves, and our families.

Jesus said, in this life you will have many troubles.  I say amen to that!  Paul the apostle listed his in more than one place:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We ae perplexed but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down but we ae not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 48f).

I feel like sometimes, don’t you?  No, I don’t ever think I am being hunted by enemies.  Paul, maybe, but not me. But there are issues we must face every day of the week: financial issues and family issues, health issues and homes issues, accidents and ailments, grief and loss, disappointment and discouragement, life changes that creep upon us; caring for kids and caring for parents, praying for friends and praying for strangers whose tragedy intersects with our own life in some way.

We call out to God and ask for help, and strength, and direction, and discernment, and perseverance. We need help. Give us what we need today, O God. Perhaps just a little piece. Perhaps healing. Perhaps just a friend calling to say, I love you. I’m bringing over a casserole!

We call out to God for ourselves and for each other. Our purpose here today is not to strengthen an organization called the church, but to strengthen each other that we might sing for joy and live with hope, that we might follow Jesus and be the people God wants us to be.

 

IV.

 

God hears when we call out. With a loud voice or in the stillness and silence of our solitude.

Garrison Keilor called out to God and wept while he did so.

It was a healing service, he wrote in 2018, and after the sermon, the clergy and deacons stood in a line across the front of the church and people were invited to come forward for prayers of healing. Some old, some young, came up to a clergyperson and the two of them joined hands and the supplicant leaned forward and whispered and the clergyperson prayed for him or her. 

 

These encounters took several minutes, there was no hurry. It was so moving, the visible Body of Christ offering prayerful attention to individuals who needed it, and I wept so I couldn't even sing the healing hymn, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord." A steady stream of people. 

 

And then I joined them and I went to a black lady deacon who took my hands and I whispered that I have too much anger about a wrong done to me and I feel crippled by anger, and she prayed in a soft Caribbean voice, a long prayer, as I stood there, trembling. 

 

And then the hymn, "It Is Well With My Soul," which I love, and another, with the chorus, "He will raise them up, He will raise them up, in the last day" and all around me, Episcopalians, white, black, gay, straight, holding their hands in the air for faith in the blessed Resurrection. Anglicans, being charismatic. 

 

I wrote four limericks during the sermon, which was inaudible. 

 I say the prayer of contrition
And see my pernicious condition,
And then in an inst-
-ant am cleansed, at least rinsed,
A sinner but a newer edition.”

 

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