November 8, 2020

If My People….

Passage: 2 Chronicles 7:11-22

In 1629, when the wife of Indian ruler Shah Jahan died, he ordered that a magnificent tomb be built as a memorial to her.  The Shah placed his wife’s casket in the middle of a piece of land, and construction of the temple literally began around it.  But a few months into the venture, the Shah’s grief for his wife gave way to a passion for the project.  One day while he was surveying the sight, he stumbled over a wooden box, and he had some workers throw it out.  It was days before he realized that it was his wife’s casket that had been thrown out.  The original purpose for the memorial became lost in the details of construction.  They built the Taj Mahal, but they forgot the reason for the building.  They forgot what their mission truly was!  Today on Remembrance Sunday, we know exactly what our remembrance is about.  The words “Lest we forget” had gone through our minds as we’ve seen people wearing poppies the last week or two.  Before the term “Lest we forget” was used in reference to soldiers and war, it was first used in an 1897.  It was in a  Christian poem written by Rudyard Kipling called “Recessional.”  “Lest we forget” occurs eight times and is repeated at the end of the first four stanzas.  That was to add particular emphasis regarding the dangers of failing to remember.

As we today and on the 11th remember those who fought for our freedom, the question is, “What do we do with our freedom?”  There are those who are very ignorant about freedom.  They ask with arrogance,  “Free for what?”  But you know my friends, freedom is a gift.  There are countries in our world where people long for freedom.  What kinds of freedom do we enjoy that soldiers in wars secured for us?

First we have to think of Freedom of Religion.  We are free to practice our religion.  No one stopped us at the door of this church and said, “You cannot enter here to worship God.”  No under cover government agents like in Communist Russia at the time came and removed bibles and Christian literature from our homes.  It’s more like people today squander the religious freedom they enjoy.

There is Political freedom.  We have the freedom to live in a safe country and communities where law and order are well in place.  We can go to a work place and our children and grandchildren can get an education in schools and other institutions.

But then – think about it – freedom can be taken away from us.  That reality the people of Israel experienced on so many occasions.  They got complacent; their reverence for God became lukewarm and He was never going to tolerate that.  Then His people had been taken away into exile to Babylon, Assyria and other places.

The book of Chronicles according to scholars was written by 5th century Ezra.  It was during the reign of Solomon, a king God made very prosperous and in his wisdom he sought the face of the Lord.  It was in the tent of meeting after he brought burnt offerings before God.  He wanted to secure peace and prosperity for his people.  And then in 2 Chronicles 7 we read that God appeared to Solomon at night and He answered his prayer.  What was it God wanted him and his people always to keep in mind? – “Remember me, the Lord your God.”  You see, that is still God’s message for every free nation in the world when we commemorate Remembrance Day – “Remember me as the God over nations Who has secured freedom and prosperity for all.  See my hand in all that has happened from the beginning of time up to this point.  My faithfulness stands above everything that can come to mind.”                                                                                                                                                                         The word of the Lord came to Solomon and his people – in fact it’s a word to all nations and generations – “If my people, who are called my my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and will heal their land.”  Verse 14.  The first requirement for God healing the world is               1 Humble Yourselves.  It’s a very prominent word that Ezra brought to Solomon and the children of Israel – “If my people will humble themselves…”  It’s like Ezra wanted to emphasize, “It was the lack of humility that led to the downfall of God’s people.”  Let’s think of how many times the Israelites in the wilderness became proud and they refused to change their ways before God.  Do we have to confess that it’s an unfortunate characteristic of our human nature to be proud?  That we tend to put ourselves on a pedestal?  You know humility isn’t a popular world in our generation.  Once on a bus I couldn’t help to overhear a conversation between 2 young men.  The one said, “I don’t bow before anyone – not even God.”  Why do you think has humility been a problem for the human race from the beginning of time?  It’s all about coming out on top in every situation.  The first murder that we know of was when Cain murdered his brother Abel.  He was jealous when his sacrifice wasn’t accepted, but his motivation was out of place.  It was all about him, not to bring a humble sacrifice before God like his brother.  It’s so clear from Scripture my friends – God wants every person to live with a humble heart.  Can you recall what we read in Romans 12: 3 about the gifts the Holy Spirit distributed among us and how we should think of those gifts?  Paul wrote, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”   You know, so many people in this world do not grasp that our first priority is to contribute to God’s kingdom.  Pride – the opposite of humility – in some cases drove nation against nation to compete about which one was the strongest.  Can we come before God on this Remembrance Sunday and acknowledge that this world had so many unnecessary offences?  As much as thousands affirmed in their hearts, “This should never happen again” it happened over and over again.  So little of God’s words through Isaiah changed the ways of humanity – “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.  They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Isaiah 2: 4.  And then through Ezra in 2 Chronicles God wanted to bring His message to all people – “If my people…”  Yes, it’s meant for all people, because God wants all people from every nation tribe, language and people co come and find His grace.  And His message is – “Let me be God.  I hold the world together.  I can bring peace and prosperity for I have sent the Prince of Peace to the world.”                                                                                           

There is a second thought from 2 Chronicles 7 – 2 Pray And Seek God’s Face.  We have to appreciate the essence of prayer.  We do not pray because we want to receive things from God.  No, we pray because we want to develop a relationship with Him.  A Dutch theologian by name van Andel, once said, “To pray is to pour out your soul before God.”  In that moment my friends, you strip yourself from everything and you acknowledge God above everything that exists.  Then nothing else, but God matters.  That’s the reverence God wants all the time of His children.  That’s what Ezra brought to Solomon and Israel – “…pray and seek my face…”  De Vries, a Bible commentator, interpreted “seeking God’s face” in this verse as when the people in Solomon’s time made a pilgrimage to God’s sanctuary.  There they enjoyed His presence and sought every opportunity to have gone again to the sanctuary to be in God’s presence.  There is a very sad reality in our world today – seeking the presence of God isn’t as much a priority for many as what it has been before.  No, God is written more and more out of the life stories of people.  That’s why my friends, we have to humble ourselves before God and pray for a world that is spiritually bankrupt.  But we have to make a heart’s decision every day of our lives.  That is to place Jesus before us and we have to affirm what we love to sing from time to time – “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back; no turning back.”  God longs to heal the land of each nation, but each nation needs to seek Him in everything.  I think we all will agree that after many wars, but in particular two World Wars, there were those who sought the face of God.  Things at that time couldn’t be worse and people wanted for God to heal them.  Why is it that our present generation doesn’t seek God’s face?  We have to agree – things aren’t really going well right now.  There is division between nations – if it’s not another threat from North Korea or tension in the Middle East or Israel and Palestine that can’t get to peace, the next crisis is waiting around the corner.  Why is there talk about making sure that military offences are in place and not “Seek God’s face”?  As we come with this Remembrance and thank God for many sacrifices we also come to affirm, “Yes, we will humble ourselves before God and we will pray and seek His face.”

Amen.                                                                                                                                                                       Rev. Willem H. van de Wall