This is a Youth Sunday sermon by high school senior Jeremy Douylliez given at First Presbyterian Church in Saint Marys, Georgia this past Sunday, October 25, 2009:
1 Kings 19: 11-13
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
Mark 5: 36
Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”
Have you watched the news recently? It’s pretty scary. Everyday there are more murders, burglaries, kidnappings, acts of terror, and the list goes on and on and on. Children in Africa die of AIDS and starvation at unimaginable rates. Teachers in schools no longer worry about talking or passing notes because they have to worry about guns and violence. Everyday more people are tortured and more unnecessary lives are lost in war. Everyday more people are forced to live in fear. Everyday hope fades in the lives of so many. The world is on fire.
Tsunamis crash on Indonesian soil killing thousands. California forest fires leave countless homeless. The aftermath of Katrina is still very real, and it will still be many years before the Gulf has fully recovered. Earthquakes destroy entire cities. And Mother Nature’s fires unfortunately have a tendency of causing us to point fingers. We blame ourselves for global warming. We blame FEMA for poor disaster response. We blame God for letting it happen.
The last is the easiest…and perhaps the most common. God holds the universe in his hands. He can control anything and everything. He can stop bad things from happening…but he doesn’t. Blame God. Blame God. Blame God. If God loved us soooooo much, how could he allow what happens to us to happen to us?
Better yet, we reverse that viewpoint and say things like this. I wonder what those people in Indonesia were doing to deserve the tsunami. I wonder what was going on in the lives of the Katrina victims that God drowned. I wonder why God would kill those people, destroy those cities, and sentence them to hell.
Almost everyday at school I am challenged with the question, “If there’s a God, why does he let bad things happen?” I like to respond saying, “Well how would you feel if the next time you were about to do something wrong, God stopped you?” Isn’t it ironic that God loved us enough to give us free will, but the second something goes wrong we don’t want it anymore! The second a child is kidnapped, we want God to intervene! We want God to force the hand of the kidnapper! We forget about that gift called free will, when it stops being convenient, but no one better try and take it away from us.
At the Gathering Place last summer, a room filled with a little over a thousand teenagers was informed by a speaker that Michael Jackson is burning in the lowest level of hell. Really? The general theme of that message was that God will destroy you if you do the wrong things. God is sitting up in his big throne with a finger pointed ready to zap you. Better watch out.
The world is on fire.
And it’s not only burning because of the natural disasters, the crime, the starvation, or the unimaginable amounts of pain inflicting millions across the planet. It is also on fire with two types of people. The people who blame God set the world on fire and the people who accredit every disaster to God’s wrath set the world on fire.
Our passage from 1st Kings this morning refutes both of these viewpoints. There was a wind, but the Lord wasn’t in the wind. There was an earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. There was a fire, but the Lord wasn’t in the fire. God isn’t in the fires of our world. He doesn’t start them, he doesn’t stop them. The kicker is in that final verse. After the fire, there was a still small voice.
God answers in a still small voice. Instead of posing the question, “Where is God in disaster?” I think the better question is, “Where are we, God’s people, in disaster?” Are we on the front lines aiding injured, rebuilding walls, instilling hope? Where are we? God isn’t in the fires, he’s in the response. We have to be the still small voice of God.
Not a sparrow can fall to the ground without God noticing. But the sparrow still falls. The fires still burn. The still small voice is what will pick the sparrow back up off of the ground. It is what will rebuild where the fires have burned.
So what if God isn’t in the fires, but in the response? That doesn’t make them any less frightening. The world still burns and I’m still afraid. On Jesus’ way to raise a young girl to life he preaches the shortest sermon in his career. “Do not be afraid, just believe.” When the Angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds in the fields he said, “Do not be afraid.” When He appeared to Martha and Mary at the tomb he said, “Do not be afraid.” Christ says it numerous times throughout the gospels. “Do not be afraid.”
The world is on fire. Nations are raging against other nations, famine is striking down thousands a day, homeless rates continue to grow, the world is on fire. The world economy continues to fail, jobs are lost, wages are cut, employees are furloughed, the world is on fire. The polar ice caps are melting – it is not a political statement it is a scientific reality the world is on fire. Hope, faith, and love are becoming things of the past, the world is on fire. But the Angel of the Lord says, “Do not be afraid.”
For a time is coming: a time when God’s new city will descend on Earth and He will live with his people. Live for that day. Live for the day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes and death and sorrow will be no more. Live for the day when cries of hunger are replaced with songs of thanksgiving around a plentiful dinner table. Live for the day when swords are beaten into plow shares and spears into pruning hooks. Live for the day when love has conquered any and every obstacle. Live for that day. And do not be afraid.