It is probably not possible to be unaware of the awful things that have been taking place in the United States over the last few days. We have quite a number of persons dead, others wounder to various levels of severity, lives and families and whole cities in turmoil. And the usual number of those who intend to make some sort of capital out of the mess. I was not there for any of it. Most people were not. But many of us have friends, family, business associates, and various other links to some of these places. I have never been an official First Responder, though Dear Wife and many many friends and contacts either have been or are now. Others, like me, have some background in some of these issues, and, like me, have had the fortune to be at Ground Zero for more than one, and know too well the smells of fresh blood and firearms discharges, and know the wails of the suddenly bereaved. I do not believe that the Lord is glorified in any of it, nor does it please Him.
Likewise, I see the food riots and deprivation in places like Venezuela, privation caused entirely by obeisance to the false god of socialism, as it has been in virtually every circumstance in which it has been installed,
I see fighting in the Uighur areas of China, and in the Moslem insurrections in the Philippines, in the various "-stans" of Asia, in many parts of Africa, in many parts of central and south America. And in Mexico.
It is easy to become convinced that God has somehow chosen to ignore all of this, that He does not care.
I reject that.
And the record is rather clear that He knows, and that none of this occurs out of His knowledge and out of His control. I do not know His perfect will, nor His plan. But I know beyond a doubt that He is at work, and when it all comes to pass, it will be marvelous in our eyes.
The record is also clear that the struggle will be real and personal. Our readings today reflect that.
The Old Testament reading is Psalms 4, 5, and 6.
David is described as a man after God's own heart. Yet he struggled and suffered: some of the Psalms of David were composed while he was literally running for his life, hiding from his enemies. Others came about when he was in deep despair, reaching out to the Lord as the only comfort to be had. Not an easy life, and not a sinless one either. Yet his influence is still felt today.
Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.
O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.
But know that the LORD hath set apart him that is godly for himself: the LORD will hear when I call unto him.
Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD.
There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.
Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.
Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.
For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.
The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.
Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.
But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.
Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face.
For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.
Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.
But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.
For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.
O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.
Have mercy upon me, O LORD; for I am weak: O LORD, heal me; for my bones are vexed.
My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O LORD, how long?
Return, O LORD, deliver my soul: oh save me for thy mercies' sake.
For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.
Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.
Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the LORD hath heard the voice of my weeping.
The LORD hath heard my supplication; the LORD will receive my prayer.
Let all mine enemies be ashamed and sore vexed: let them return and be ashamed suddenly.
The New Testament reading is verses 16-40 in Acts chapter 16.
Easy life? That does not describe these leaders and evangelists in the early church. Beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonments, threats, stonings, rejection. Yet they were faithful and they had an effect. I wonder sometimes about those they impacted directly. We have some records of Paul and Silas, Timothy, Barbabas, John, Peter and others. But what of the jailer who saw the miracle and, with his family, was baptized? What of the nameless damsel who, suddenly, was no longer a teller of fortunes? Or Lydia and her friends and family? The other prisoners in the jail in this account? What of them? I have to believe that at least some of them were led to tell others what the Lord had done. And they, in turn, to lead others. Have we had that same impact?
And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:
The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.
And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.
And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,
And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,
And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.
And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.
And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go.
And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace.
But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.
And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.
And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.
And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.