Reversal of Fortunes
I take my title from a novel by Patrick O’Brian but my text from Psalm 126. I use both to address real-life situations in our country, our church, and in our lives. We pray today for a reversal of fortunes, and we believe the power of God is at work to reverse things that are wicked, depressing, and a recipe for failure and replace them with things that are good, and true, and overflowing with joy.
Let me begin with a reversal story. Pittsburgh launched its NFL franchise in 1933 and for the next 40 years had one of the worst records in the history of the league. Steelers. But in the early 70’s, a new coach, some good draft picks, and the most famous play in NFL history created a reversal of fortunes. Since 1972, the franchise has had the best record in the league, including six Super Bowls.
We need to see the same kind of reversal on the national level, on the congregational level, and on the personal level.
This psalm encourages us to believe things can change. “When the Lord brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream! WE were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. Other people said, “What amazing things the Lord has done for them.” And we said, “Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!!”
This testimony and celebration reflect one of the three great reversals in biblical narrative: first, with a strong right hand, God brought the Hebrew people out of Egypt. We call it the Exodus. It dominates the Torah and much of the Psalms.
Second, the armies of Babylon destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took thousands of Jewish people into exile, in Babylon; but three generations later, God, faithful to the promise, inspired the new Persian rulers to release them and let them return. In fact, they even gave to the Jews, as they were called then, financial resources to reestablish their country. We call it today, reparations. This experience of loss and restoration dominates much of the prophetic writing in the Hebrew Bible.
Third, God raised Jesus out of the grave. Political and religious leaders conspired to arrest Jesus, charged him with crimes against the state, drug him through the mockery of a trial, and sentenced him to death by crucifixion. He was raised up between two common criminals, made to suffer in the presence of many people, and then buried in a borrowed grave.
But, on the third day, God raised him from the dead. The greatest of all reversals! At the center of our faith, our confession, our religion is this reversal of fortunes. And streaming out in all directions is this confidence: what God did for Jesus, God will do for all of us, for any of us, for you and for me. God will defeat death and God will defeat all the dealers in death on the good planet and give you life, eternal life and abundant life.
Believe this! Trust this! Live in the richness of this promise!
Each of these—the Exodus, the Exile, and Easter—are similar. All of them have a personal dimension: believe it can happen, believe it did happen, have confidence that this same power of God is coursing through your life and through the world today, bringing life and justice and peace, changing your past and your future, filling your spirit with love, joy, peace, and courage.
Each of these—the Exodus, the Exile, and Easter—are very much the same. All of them have a social dimension: they play out in the public realm, overturning wickedness and oppression and establishing righteousness, and justice, and the shalom of God. Jesus said, I have come to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to make the blind to see, the set free the oppressed, and to declare that the day of the Lord’s favor has come.
I preached on this several weeks ago and quoted the gospel chorus of my youth: I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me: makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. Open prison doors, sets the captive free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.
These overarching narratives of biblical history give us hope for our personal journeys and they give us hope for the large social environment.
God is at work in your life, your mind, and your soul; but God is also at work in our country and in all the world. God is transforming you, but God is also at work within the power structures like kings, rulers, corporations, institutions, armies, and wherever people are organized for actions that impact all of us.
The Exodus, the Return from Exile, and the Resurrection from the grave offer a word to us as individuals, to our congregation, and to our nation. They give us hope that a reversal of fortunes is one way that God is at work today.
We need a reversal of fortunes, even if it is not of biblical proportions. We gather here in public, and we kneel in private to pray for a change, a reversal of fortunes: a change of attitudes, a change of circumstances, a change of direction, a change of conditions.
What reversal are you praying for today?
A change in yourself: of health conditions, of wealth conditions? A relationship of family or work or church? A change in others: their attitude, their health, their situation in life?
We all have family issues, financial issues, friendship issues, success and failure issues. We pray for them here and at home and in the car as we drive. We want to see a reversal of fortunes. This past week, one son of mine finished his sixth addiction recovery residential program, and the other son entered a psychiatric hospital for the sixth time. I am praying for a reversal of fortunes!
What are you praying for?
Not every disease can be healed and not every mistake can be corrected. Which is why they teach us to pray: Lord, give me the courage to change what I can, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Sometimes, it is not conditions that can change, but attitudes. Sometimes it is not a disease that can be healed but the attitude of care and concern.
In every situation, something can change, even if that something is our attitude about it, even if it is something deep down inside of us.
Even there, a reversal of fortunes can transform everything.
We focus on personal things; but there are congregational things that weigh us down. Perhaps our church needs a reversal of fortunes.
As a church we have struggled. Once upon a time this sanctuary was full and brimming with people: young people and old people, children and youth, singing and laughing and praying and making plans. But little by little that flourishing family of faith has had much of the life sucked out of it.
We are the victim of a massive change in our culture.
I listened to a podcast yesterday as I was driving. He noted the sharp decline in Christian commitment among the younger generation, those 40 and under. The minister said this: the old trilogy of orthodoxy, objectivity, and authority. He said these are no longer compelling to this rising generation.
Hundreds of articles and scores of books are on the market bemoaning this movement and asking the questions: what shall we do? One person said recently, the big question we will face over the next decade is this: what shall we do with all these empty church buildings?
Then came COVID. It is the pestilence that stalked by dark and the plague that destroys at noon. It has killed hundreds of thousands of people; and it is killing thousands of organizations, businesses, and churches.
Today, we are meeting in three places: here in the sanctuary, there on zoom, and everywhere and anywhere people have a smart phone or a computer. Will we ever be together again?
My sister told me this story this week. She mentioned the name of a prominent professional couple that we both know. The wife said, “We watch every Sunday on-line. We like it. I don’t know if we will ever come back to the sanctuary!”
The COVID has permanently changed religion in America.
We need a reversal of fortunes!
We do not need, merely, a return to the way things were. Fifty years ago, there was a similar crisis. The younger generation—me and my friends and a million more—abandoned the sanctuary for the coffee house, gave up the organ for the guitar, neglected the hymns for the chorus.
I picked up this chorus book from back in the day: copyright 1971. Songs new then and forgotten now. It was the Jesus movement. Long hair. Communes. The Cross and the Switchblade. It was a new movement of God.
Our situation drives us to ask questions about our way of doing religion. All we doing this Christian thing right? Are we telling the story that needs to be told? Are we planning the events that need to happen? Are we giving the right witness? Am I preaching the right sermon to support you in your journey into the mind and spirit of Jesus Christ? Is what happens here what needs to happen for us to be the people God wants us to be, to finish the work God has called us to do, for us to navigate this journey called life, for us to guide and inspire those who walk beside us and come behind us?
Do we, Providence Baptist Church, need a reversal of fortunes?
Let’s pray for it. Let’s believe it can happen. Let’s open ourselves to it. Let’s lead the way. Let’s find where God is at work, what God is doing in the world today, and join in. Forget praying for a restoration of what used to be.
Let’s pray for something new.
The prominent verse of this generation is this: Behold, I do a new thing!
Sometimes we want God do to the old things, just bigger and better. Let’s pray for a new thing. An exodus from the many bondages in which our religion has been trapped; a resurrection from the many dead things that have kept our faith in a casket.
Let’s be ready for something new! Something fresh and arresting, something that shakes up our world and calls us to a closer walk with Jesus and a deeper life in Christ.
Do your thing, God, and let us witness it. And can I invoke the title of a sermon from two weeks ago: Let our children see your glory, and let us see your glory in and through our children!
Our country needs a reversal of fortunes. Are you with me here?
Our country needs a reversal of fortunes. There is a sense of impending disaster. There is a feeling that something could explode. There is anger and frustration and fear. Much of this came to the surface last January in the attack on the Capital.
Much of it came to the surface last year in Minneapolis and Louisville and Brunswick, Georgia. Three white men gunned down a young black man. This week they began searching for a jury. My wife received the letter calling her to appear for jury duty. This trial will pull back the covers on the soul of America and reveal whether three white men can murder a black man and get away with it. In Georgia.
There are people in Michigan without clean and safe drinking water. There are people in Mexico pleading for a welcome in America. There are athletes kneeling for justice and workers begging for a fair wage. All the while, the rich are getting richer: it was announced yesterday that Elon Musk, the man playing around in space, will soon be a trillionaire. And those of us on Social Security are pleased with a 5.6% increase in our retirement check.
We need a reversal of fortunes in this country.
We need kindness to overcome meanness. We need justice to take precedence over charity. We need righteousness—personal righteousness and social righteousness—to be the aim of every person and every organization. We need to put aside discrimination in favor of fairness and equity. We need the wealthy to invest in the wellbeing of the poor. We need the strong to give a hand to the weak. We need people to lay down their swords and rifles and guns and invest in tools that build and talk that heals.
We need the religious to gather up their neighbors of any color and creed and welcome them in the name of Jesus. We all need to sing that old anthem, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother!”
We need a reversal of fortunes before there is a revolution!
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest. Psalm 126, verses 4,5 & 6.
This is our prayer today!