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If It Had Not Been The Lord
August 25, 1996

Psalm 124

When I read the suggested scriptural passages for today from the lectionary, I was struck by the phrase which opens Psalm 124. The psalmist exclaims, If it had not been the Lord who was on our side! The psalmist saw the Lord at work in Israel's history, saw the Lord at work in the defeat of their enemies. We would have been swallowed up alive, the psalmist writes, we would have drowned in the flood, if it had not been the Lord. Blessed be the Lord. Truly, our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Not only did the Lord make the earth, the Lord is still creating the earth, bringing order out of chaos. In his 35,000-word essay, the Unabomber wrote, "I attribute the social and psychological problems of modern society to the fact that society requires people to live under conditions radically different from those under which the human race evolved." He complains that the modern world, for all its technological marvels, is an uncomfortable and unfulfilling place to live. If the one who was arrested is the Unabomber, we know that he looked at where the human race has evolved, and tried to escape. He tried to roll back the clock and live like a hermit in the Montana wilderness with few mementos of the technology he criticizes.

On the other hand, Christians look at where the human race has evolved and in amazement and humility, whisper, If it had not been the Lord who was on our side... If the theory of evolution is an accurate picture of how God created and is still creating, we marvel how the Lord works. Picture the Lord working through millions of years, guiding the process, contending with chaos and disorder, to bring us to where we are today. The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God creates out of a formless void, darkness, and chaotic waters. Chaos threatens on every hand, and still too often, breaks through causing havoc, destruction, violence, and wanton maliciousness. Imagine where civilization would be today, if it had not been the Lord who was on our side.

The Unabomber longs for an earlier time, an easier time, he believes. But, let's not romanticize the past, and think there was a utopia we can duplicate. It is said that Henry Ford, toward the end of his life, built himself a model town, trying to recreate the town of his youth, a town with dirt streets, horse-drawn buggies, with a calmer, less frantic way of life, a town and way of life he helped destroy with his invention of the automobile! But, we can't go back, and would we really want to go back? Let's not romanticize the past. Visit an old rural cemetery and study the tombstones. You cannot help but be struck by the harshness of the existence some of our ancestors had to endure. There is a cemetery in western Nebraska with the following epitaphs on tombstones.

Here rests Sarah Ann, age 6, 1820, may she rest in peace

John, age 6 months, 1810

Mary Virginia, age 18, 1817

Beloved wife, Martha Reynolds, age 24, 1826

Son, Mark, age 14, 1841, God's will be done

Beloved husband, John, age 39, 1850

Few of the graves hold the remains of people who lived beyond 35 years. Let's not romanticize the past, but celebrate how God was at work. If it had not been the Lord, would they have even lived so long? If it had not been the Lord, would they have succeeded in making their homes and building towns in the wilderness? And, if it had not been the Lord at work, how would we have all that we have and are today? Contending against chaos, contending against disease, hardship, severe weather, crime, and war, the Lord brought us to where we are today, and in spite of all that is wrong today, there is a great deal that is good. If it had not been the Lord, where would we be?

In your life, can you see where the Lord has worked? In Wesleyan theology, John Wesley used the phrase Prevenient Grace. Prevenient literally means going before, preceding. Prevenient grace means that God has been at work in your life since you were born, indeed before you were born. Because of prevenient grace, we believe in infant baptism. Baptizing infants proclaims that God loves us, God cares for us, and God works in our lives before we make a confession, before we have a spiritual experience, before we are saved, before we know how smart we are or how inadequate we are. When we are innocent infants, God reaches out, embraces us and brings us into the family. When we mature to the point where we have a spiritual experience, when we make a conscious commitment to accept the love of Christ and serve Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then we can look back on our lives, and see how God was at work. If it had not been the Lord, we praise in amazement.

Can you identify crossroads in your life, experiences in your life, decisions you made, choices you made, where God was definitely at work? Can you praise God and thank God, If it had not been the Lord! Perhaps you look back and see where you made big mistakes. Some of you may even be sorry, and lament, "Oh, if I had only taken that job, or not taken that job. Oh, if I had only married so and so, or not married so and so." If you look back at a decision and wish you had done differently, remember: You did it! You can't change it. Let it go. Look for the Lord in what happened.

I recall coming home one evening. It was about three weeks into a new church. I told Ellie, "It was a mistake coming here. I should not have accepted the appointment." I really felt I had made a wrong choice, a bad decision. But, as I look back now, that church was part of the process which brought us to California. If it had not been the Lord, who knows where we would be today. We came to California. Our boys all went to school here. Two of them have married California girls. They have their friends, they have good jobs. Ellie and I have had successful ministries here in California. We have been abundantly blessed by God. Who is to say I made a bad decision? But, if it had not been the Lord working in the process, where would we be today?

What I am really talking about this morning is God's will. I believe God's will is many facetted, with many roads and choices. One way to look at God's will is to picture God pulling strings, orchestrating events in order to make his will happen. We call it predestination. I followed a car the other day with a bumper sticker, Everything happens for a reason. I don't think so. Many unreasonable things happen. Chaos, disorder, accidents, cancer, untimely deaths, bad things happen, without any reason. Rather than picturing God sitting outside the process, orchestrating his will, picture God in the process, right inside everything that happens, working to bring reason out of it, working to make sense out of it, to make the best of it.

Last week I defined petitionary and intercessory prayer as the act of wearing God down. After the service, one listener who listened well, asked, "What about God's will?" I replied, "God's will is not just one way; it is many facetted." When God runs into a brick wall, the Lord detours and makes new paths. When you make a bad choice, God doesn't abandon you, but guides you along the road you have chosen until you come to another crossroad, and again can make a choice which brings you into a new direction. There is always hope. The future is always bright and open.

The psalmist looked at Israel's history and could see how the Lord had been at work. The psalmist had two responses to this discovery: thanksgiving and trust. He burst with enthusiasm, Blessed be the Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for working in the process. Thank you for bringing us to this day. Thank you for saving us from our enemies. Thanksgiving was a response. Praise. And, trust. Seeing how God had worked in their past gave them confidence, trust to face the future. The psalmist proclaimed, Our help is in the name of the Lord. Yes, not only did the Lord work in our past, but the Lord will work in our future. If it had not been the Lord, where would we be? And, if it is not the Lord working in our future, where will we be? Trust.

I fully believe that if it had not been the Lord working in your life, you wouldn't be here this morning. The Lord has worked through the good decisions, and through the bad decisions, through the pivotal events, to bring you to this day in your life, and to bring you here this morning so that you could hear this sermon! The question you must ask is, why? For what purpose has God brought you to this day? I fully believe God has never abandoned you, given up on you, or got disgusted with you. I fully believe God is working in your life for a reason, a significant, monumental reason. God has been preparing you for today and tomorrow! All that has happened to you has prepared you for this moment. To do what? To be what? What is your mission? What is your ministry? Has God prepared you for a new adventure-- to befriend prisoners through the M-2 Ministry?

You are not an accident. You are not a bundle of coincidences. You can't go back and do it over. You are what you are. Take an assessment, and see how God has been at work, and is still working in your life, still creating, still making new. Blessed be the Lord. If it had not been the Lord who was on your side... Our help is in the name of the Lord. Now, what are you doing with the life God has given you?

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris