Blessings and Curses

Sermon For A National Day of Prayer for COVID 19
Carillon Chapel March 15, 2020 Blessings and Curses

Responsive Reading- Psalm 95
Leader: O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
People: For the LORD is a great God And a great King above all gods, In whose hand are the depths of the earth, The peaks of the mountains are His also.
Leader: The sea is His, for it was He who made it, And His hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
People: For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.
Today, if you would hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
As in the day of Massah in the wilderness, “When your fathers tested Me, They tried Me, though they had seen My work.
All: “For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways. “Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.”

I have heard King David referred to as “a man after God’s own heart.” What does that kind of heart look like? David himself gives us a clue as to what he believes it means in Psalms 16:2

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

David recognized that the heart of God is good and that the only good within David was the goodness of God in him. Godly leaders set aside their own need for ego building and self-confidence and humble themselves before an almighty God. They are humble. Not in the way one may think about humility, but in the way that matters most… humble about their own standing before a Good God.

As I have thought about what it means to be one after God’s own heart I have thought about the comparison of two men of power and authority in Scripture- King David, whose name means “beloved”, was the twelfth of the twelve sons of Jesse and grandson of Boaz and Ruth. Joseph, whose name means “increaser”, was the eleventh of the twelve sons Jacob had by the two sisters, Leah and Rachel, and their concubines.

Joseph’s father, Jacob, was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, grandson of Abraham, the patriarch whose offspring became part of the “Twelve Tribes of Israel.” These two men, David “the beloved” and Joseph “the increaser”, are of the same family of Abraham but from different times and tribes. These two men were family “cousins” , although they were quite a few generations apart. David was from down the line of the fourth of Jacob’s sons, Judah, who is Joseph’s older brother. That would make Joseph David’s uncle removed by ever how many generations were between them… I didn’t stop to calculate it.  Judah’s name means “Yah be praised” (Yah is a shortened version of Yahweh from a Hebrew word that means “to be” or to become”). As one of the twelve sons of Jacob, Joseph himself was a patriarch of his own tribe, actually of 2 tribes, that arose from his two sons, and although he, of course, did not live to see the exodus and enter the Promised Land himself, his heirs- the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh did and Joseph’s bones were taken with them to be buried in the land of their fathers. Essentially, Joseph’s line received a double portion of the inheritance when the Hebrew nation entered its final destination. But that is a story for another Sunday….

A biblical comparison of these two favored individuals, David and Joseph, anointed men of God’s choosing for greatness, offers some insights worth considering about God’s heart and each man’s. The life of each one shows God’s favor and God’s provision for them and each one was given a special responsibility over God’s people. Both were youngest and favorite sons of their fathers. Recall that Joseph was the youngest son at the time he was being sold by his brothers into slavery and sent into slavery in Egypt. The baby of the clan, Benjamin, Rachel’s second son to Jacob and the last of the twelve, was not born until after Joseph was gone into slavery. The news of Benjamin’s birth came as a surprise to Joseph. So, too, perhaps the news of his mother’s death in giving birth to Benjamin and his desire to see Benjamin may have been part of the motivation for the elaborate plan to get all of the family to come to Egypt…. Holding Simeon as a hostage until Benjamin and Jacob are brought to him….. secretly packing valuables in their bags to appear as if they had stolen it. So Joseph was shrewd…. All for the sake of seeing family and being restored to fellowship with them, it seems.

Both David and Joseph were gifted by God and called by God for specific leadership, although their levels of leadership and styles of leadership were quite different.

And there is a biological relationship between the two men… distant cousins, both with privileged positions in their families and obviously gifted and called for leadership.

So what differences can be observed that give us more insights into this designation of “a man after God’s own heart?“
Two scriptures regarding David… one from OT, one from NT give us a clue.

1 Samuel 13:14 – This is God’s Word to King Saul:
“ But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” Notice the word “prince”, not king….

Acts 13:22 says, “After removing Saul, God made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” … Notice: He will do everything I want him to do.

The OT introduction to God’s choice of David calls him a man after his own heart and commanded him to be prince over his people. Saul is still the king at this point, but this is God’s announcement to King Saul that God is going to make a change and David will take over, but not for a while. It does not occur immediately. Instead we see a lengthy narrative of David achieving an exalted military reputation and Saul becoming jealous and turning on David, chasing him down, into Philistine country and David striving to be patient and dutiful to God in regard to respect for Saul’s reign. For David the time between anointing by Samuel in the presence of his Father and brothers and the later anointing at the time of his coming to the throne as king was not a quick process.

David the favored son, was anointed as a youth to succeed King Saul, somewhat secretly by the prophet Samuel, out of fear for his own life before Saul. Taken into the king’s home, David lived a privileged life. Then he encountered problems with Saul, his benefactor and predecessor, but rose to the challenge and acted honorably, refusing to kill Saul, even when he had opportunity. David continued to act honorably, until a “choice dainty” was placed before him at a time when we are told he would normally have been with his troops in battle, but instead he was indulging in a king’s prerogative to remain at home and send others to do the work. The beautiful woman he saw bathing on her roof, Bathsheba, was brought before him and had no choice but to submit to the authority of the king when she was called. One might say that David abused his power, disregarded God’s standards for leadership as a king, and indulged in this “dainty” offered up as a temptation that appealed to a lustful appetite in him – which he chose to indulge. Others might argue that Bathsheba engaged in an indecent exposure that presented a temptation David couldn’t resist. However it occurred and whatever force brought it about, that choice by David ultimately led to Uriah’s murder, a baby’s death, the prophet Nathan’s reprimand of David, God’s pronouncement of a reign for David filled with war, sexual violence by one child against another, rebellion and treason even by his own children, and denial of the privilege of building the temple. And yet, God’s love for David did not change. There were, however, consequences for David’s behavior. As I thought about this, it certainly wasn’t David’s righteousness that appeared to make David near to God’s heart but rather it was that, when confronted with his sins, David didn’t try to cover them up, justify them, blame others or turn against God. Except for the questionable handling of the sexual assault by his son on his daughter, he accepted correction and repented and sought reconciliation with God, even when reconciliation with his children or others was not possible, and sought to remain connected and attentive to God. He was inclined to follow his emotions, however, and that led him into what seemed like out of character behavior at times.  Perhaps his own sexual sin with Bathsheba prevented him from taking more protective and fatherly action on his daughter’s behalf. But even in all of this, David did not get angry at God.  He knew that his sin had been against God and consequences had come not only to him, but to his family as well.  Although he had been forgiven, God did not erase all of the consequences. And still David had repented and had remained in fellowship with God, hurting at times, but taking his pain to God as we clearly see in David’s Psalms.  What comfort, peace, and hope has been derived over the millenia from the heart cries and celebrations of David poured out to God? Like Job, David learned in his suffering that, no matter what, God was still there and would not leave him.

Now let’s look in a little closer at Joseph- Recall that he was also a favored youngest son whose favor annoyed his brothers and led them to sell him into slavery to a caravan headed for Egypt and tell their father he’d been killed. Joseph was taken into a well-provisioned home and had the favor of God and among men. But when he resisted a woman’s lustful desires, he was falsely accused of sexual assault and imprisoned. He continued to use the gift of interpreting dreams that had incited his brothers’ jealousy and anger while he was among the men in prison and eventually Joseph was called to do that for Pharoah. His obedience in that led to him having a place of trust and responsibility over the nation’s resources, basically becoming the prince of Egypt….just under the Pharoah himself…. which came in handy when his brothers came seeking food during a widespread drought. He was able to maneuver them into bringing the whole family, including the youngest brother Benjamin, whom he had not known. He revealed his identity and was able to provide safety, provision, and a promising future for the Hebrew people. His name, which means “increaser” or “to add”, certainly proved to be appropriate in this case as the little family of father Jacob and his sons and their families grew to a mighty force during the 400 years they remained in Egypt. But it was 14 years after they had entered Egypt due to the hospitality and gracious provision of Egypt and its Prince administrator, Joseph, that their father Jacob died in Egypt and the brothers feared that Joseph would finally take his revenge. But Joseph did not take satan’s “dainty”, his revenge, on his brothers even then. His reply was, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” Could there be more restrained or gracious words toward those who had intended harm to him as a child? Oh, if we all could only learn the lesson of understanding that God’s heart for his creation includes our good and trusting that, no matter what the circumstances look like, God will work it out for good if we love God and remain faithful to his call on our lives.

Joseph was revered among the Hebrews …… he came to be called “The Righteous One” and when they left Egypt 400 years later, his bones were taken with them to the permanent place of burial in their home land. Joseph lived honorably and did not yield to indulgence in the tempting “dainties” set before him, at least none that are recorded for us to consider. David, on the other hand, is a more recklessly aggressive leader, emotional and impulsively inclined as we see in several places in scripture. At various times he finds himself mocked for immodesty and overly exuberant worship by his wife Michal. Later he overreacted to a nobleman’s denial of supplies and threatened death to an entire household when a quick-thinking wife rescued the household, except for the arrogant husband, who died a natural death instead of being slain by David. These are temptations put before David. David’s character is revealed, his motives exposed, and his reputation suffers a bit in the process. There is a price to pay for indulging in the enemies’ dainties, for taking the bait, so to speak, that are set before us in the course of our lives. It appeared that David paid that price… the death of a child for taking Bathsheba in sin…. years spent under persecution from his own king…..and violence and rebellion at the hands of his own sons. And though David has been honored through history, including having the Messiah in his line of heirs, he did not lose his standing as a man after God’s own heart, in spite of his failings and the consequences of them which are well known. Clearly, it can’t be perfect righteousness in the law or in the eyes of men that is being used as God’s standard of measure to establish David’s credential as a man after his own heart. Rather, perhaps it is obedience to an even stricter standard that we cannot even begin to understand. A call to be absolutely committed to loving God and doing the best one knows how to obey God’s order, whatever it is, however it comes, whenever it comes…. And then, if one acts outside of accordance with God’s law…..impulsively, sinfully even….. to take the consequences, too, when they come, without flinching, blaming, or turning against God. Think about David’s conduct in those times when he is “called out”. He is known to have repented as soon as his sinfulness was shown to him and he becomes contrite before God. And he stands his ground when he believes he is right, as in the worshipping of God with joy and abandon, even when he faces criticism from his wife. He takes his lumps when they come, even when it includes brokenness before the Lord to deal with it as God chooses. To be absolutely God’s man, no matter what one is called to do or what poor choices one makes and to live with the results from them, to the best of our ability and equipping, by the grace of God. Those persecuted and martyred for their faith know this…… even when they may have erred in ways that contribute to their own deaths. God knows the ways of our hearts, even when we make errors in judgment.

I think about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German evangelical pastor and theologian known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was accused and executed for participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler in World War II. Some have said that no Christian in his right mind would engage in such a murderous action, even during war. But Bonhoeffer, though he struggled, struggled with the choice of the lesser of two evils, it seemed, to kill Hitler or allow Hitler to continue to kill millions. He did as his conscience led, surely with love for God and for those under persecution only to be caught and shot before a firing squad. He knew if he got caught he’d be killed, but it was a risk he felt compelled by God to take. God heard the cries of his people in Germany, the Jews being slaughtered. So did Bonhoeffer and he accepted God’s invitation to step into the fray and take up God’s banner in what seemed an impossible mission. He set an example of sacrifice and costly discipleship, in the name of protesting against evil, becoming a martyr whose death challenges us still about issues of justice in war and the facing choices between the lesser of two evils.

In the end, a number of people are shown in Scripture as being favored by God, called righteous for their love and faithfulness to God….. being people after His heart because they responded obediently, even when the orders seemed contrary to the Law or even contrary to the goodness of God. God’s favor on us does not mean that we never make bad choices or fail in our effort to be obedient to God’s will. And it doesn’t mean we won’t have to make hard decisions at times between the lesser of what appear to be two evils. At its very best, it means that we accept whatever role God has cast for our lives….as vessels of what men might consider honor or dishonor, but no act of obedience carried out because of love of God and submission to be used by him as he chooses, even if it appears to result in dishonor among men and disobedience in the eyes of men and the Law will fail to be redeemed by a loving God if a repentant spirit accompanies the recognition of our sin when the Holy Spirit’s conviction show it to us.  David’s life shows that it is the surrender of our pride, offering a humbled, loving heart as a sacrifice, not perfect conduct, that is the standard God uses to determine the character of our heart and to embrace us to his own heart.

Joseph’s narrative is one of patient forbearance of hardship, forgiveness and trust in God’s eventual redemptive power and the choice to be righteous, not taking vengeance into one’s own hand. Both are men after God’s own heart, obedient as called, and it is accounted as righteousness unto each of them without regard to what the tasks were they were called to perform or whether they had the approval of men or not or whether they accomplished them perfectly. Like Daniel and many others in the Bible….having done all they knew to do, they stood as well as they knew how in love and obedience to God, even when they succumbed to temptations and found it necessary to repent. They knew, always, that God was the authority over their lives…whether king or prince, powerful or imprisoned.

If God’s ultimate intentional will is to provide a means for all to come to him, including all sinners, is it possible that even acts which appear to be violations of God law, God’s will, and of his love will actually prove, over time, to have been part of God’s mysterious redemptive will that is driven by the longer arc of history in order to bring more and more of his rebellious children back to himself. We take the orders we are handed by God and we do them, accepting responsibility for the consequences of our conduct without blaming others or turning away from God, knowing that when we fail to do so, our sin is against God and God alone. That is quite a tall order.

Would a loving God go so far as to test our love by asking us to do what seems unthinkable? To make a sacrifice that makes one look foolish, or which subjects one to the humiliation and scorn of history…. All for the sake of accomplishing his will…. Isn’t that exactly what he asked his own son, Jesus Christ to do? And Jesus did it perfectly, with his face set toward Jerusalem with determination…… Isn’t that what Bonhoeffer was asked to do? And Abraham when called to sacrifice Isaac?  Maybe just like Judas…maybe even just like satan, who can only taunt and sift by tempting and who cannot judge us because of the sacrifice of Christ, which redeems all sins. There are those in history who have done things that appear so contrary to a loving God, yet whose lives demonstrated through the results of their lives that God is, indeed, always good, and that his will for us is always perfect. And even when we object and go our own way, when subjected to the “all things” standard of that which is capable of being used for good when sifted through the sieve of love of God and total submission in obedience to his will, even when it costs us up to and including our very lives, God is still good and his redemptive will is always perfect.   Only God knows the heart of each person and those things that meet the standard for righteousness and those that were done out of ignorance, bigotry, hatred, malice, spite, petty jealousy, fear, greed or any motives other than love and obedience to God.

Are “all things” truly “all things” and capable of being redeemed through the light of our love of God and being obedient to do as we have been called to do by God, and not by acting in some way that seems to be not only in obedience to his will but is also part of a bigger plan, as we are told in Roman’s 8:28 or does “all things” include only certain things that God has permitted within a more narrowly constrained moral order. Only the great sifting at the throne of judgment will reveal our hearts and show us just how seriously God is when he says “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose.”
This may sound a bit contorted, but is it possible that Jesus’ words to Judas at the Passover table before Jesus’ arrest, to “ go and do what you must” is a clue to us not only that Jesus is divine and knew the thoughts of all those around him, but is it perhaps also that Judas was sifted through God’s permissive and redemptive will, having been tempted by greed at the hand of satan as could only happen through the permissive allowance of God, to do what must be done to bring about the fullness of time and the prophecies of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection? If, as Jesus said, satan had to ask permission to sift Peter, does satan not have to ask permission to sift each of us? And when satan is permitted to sift us, and when we respond, willl we respond out of hearts of love and obedience to God when the convicting work of the Holy Spirit comes, regardless of what is being asked of us or do we respond out of fear, vengeance, or any number of other motives? It is the heart that will be judged ultimately, not our works, and even works that may appear to be dishonorable among men, may be allowed to test and refine us as a part of God’s ultimate redemptive will. God’s perfect intentional will was violated right from the beginning as Eve and Adam doubted and sinned. Yet God’s permissive will and redemptive will would, in the long run, prove all the more his great power and his great love for his creation. Nothing, absolutely nothing is wasted in God’s great creative power. Each of us is called according to God’s purpose and each of us is allowed, just as Judas was, the freewill to choose. Those choices lead to our being sifted, refined, and used to serve the cause of God’s purpose in the world, just as Judas’ choice provided a pathway for the redemptive will of God and Christ’s fulfillment of prophecy. Is it possible that we err in our hearts and do not know God’s ways, as the Psalmist says in today’s call to worship? Only one who has been in a place of doing out of love something that he does not want to do or that which violates his conscience but is required by obedience to God’s will could know. Only that person after God’s own heart and God himself can know to what extent one will be called to go in obedience to and out of love for God in order to be a part of God’s redemptive plan for all humanity.

“For forty years I loathed that generation, And said they are a people who err in their heart, And they do not know My ways. “Therefore I swore in My anger, Truly they shall not enter into My rest.”

Those who failed to trust God and feared the giants in the Promised Land were denied the rest of entering there. They struggled and wandered in the wilderness until they died. Then God took those who had remained faithful and those who had been born since that first attempt at entry and led them in through the second in command…Joshua, after Moses’ death and denial of entry due to his own disobedience.

God pronounced a harsh curse upon those who erred in their heart and did not know his ways or those who were negligent or willful in their disobedience. They were denied his rest in the Promised Land. God’s will to work out of all things for good does not mean only for my good or for my nation’s good, or for my generation’s good….. it means God’s ultimate will for the good of all his creation and people who are called according to his purpose and we are ALL called according to his purpose or we wouldn’t be here. So the question is, “How well do we love?” “How obedient will we be?” How will the quality of our love be known? Jesus said, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another and that if we love him we will obey him.

1 John 4:18 tells us
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

God calls us to fear no one, even the one who can kill you. Fear only the one who, once you are dead, has the power to cast you into hell. How do you read that….. It isn’t man, it isn’t satan, it is God alone. And he is omnipotently able to keep giving us second and third and tenth chances to get it right….as long as there is life in the body, we can overcome our errors, get up, and trust God’s goodness, be obedient, and move forward. Trusting that, in the end, it all works to God’s glory and our own good. Perfect love is fully committed to obedience to God’s will, even if it means our physical death. For we know that we, too, are among those chosen by God for a purpose and that our reward is not in this life, but with him in eternity. And that reward is eternal fellowship with him.

As Mordecai and Esther talked about the deadly situation in which the Jews found themselves in Ahasuerus’s kingdom, because of the vile scheme of Haman, recall these words, “Who knows but that this is the moment for which you were created…. For such a time as this.”

We face days in which the world is engulfed in great fear and uncertainty. But we love the Lord and know that each of us is called for a purpose. Therefore, let us do what we can and stand…trusting in God’s goodness and his omnipotence over ALL THINGS, including coronavirus. Whether this virus, which has revealed the world’s great vulnerability, has arisen from the hand of God or from the hand of man really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t appear to be as virulent as first thought and people are coming through it. This is not the apocalypse. This is another opportunity to learn the lessons God puts before us.

God is God. We are not. Love, trust, and obey God in all things. When we’re wrong accept the consequences and repent. Love and forgive others.

May God’s blessings be upon each person across our globe in the days ahead as we look to God and discover the lessons and may it draw us closer to the heart of God and may we love, forgive, and support one another in it all. Amen