In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
Last Sunday, we had a guest preacher, The Rev. Patrick Sookhdeo, the International Director of the Barnabas Fund. Patrick spoke passionately from Psalm 11 about the crisis in Syria, the plight of Christians, and the tactical options that are in front of the United States. Patrick painted a picture for us of what life is like in a society that has collapsed– ‘when the foundations are destroyed’. For those of us who sat comfortably in a beautiful sanctuary in North Arlington, with no threat of violence, and plenty of food and clothing, Patrick’s words shook us out of our comfort and made us squirm.
Restoration is a thoughtful congregation and I often receive great questions about sermons. But I have never received as much email this week as I have about Patrick’s sermon.
And I think a lot of you were holding back. 🙂
The emails ran the whole continuum from
- ‘The sermon yesterday was awesome’ to
- ‘bet you wish you were still on vacation’ to
- ‘We imagine that the choice to bring in such a prophetic voice was to take a risk in a community like ours. But we thought it was as timely as it was bold, and exactly what our community needed to hear–a necessary kick in the teeth.’ to
- ‘That was the most offensive “sermon” I have ever heard in my life…..by far.’
I LOVE OUR CHURCH! And I love that there is this kind of diversity and thoughtful engagement. Some of you were angry and you let me know. Some of you were really concerned that Patrick was misleading and you gave me counsel. Some of you appreciated being challenged and reminded of what life is like for much of the world and you said thanks. I am grateful for all of it.
One of our staff said this:
One of the things I have long valued about the Restoration community is people’s ability to share common theological convictions and then to respect the way that people act on those convictions in politically diverse ways. My prayer is (and from conversations I overheard last night, I am hopeful) that the congregation will do the same with Patrick’s message — to discern theological truth, to wrestle with its faithful application, and then to respectfully live with each other’s differing conclusions.
That is well said.
Here are a few of my thoughts:
- Patrick did say some things that were problematic and troubling. He presented a very particular response to the situation in Syria and he did not have a lot of time (or possibly inclination) for nuance. He made us uncomfortable. And he may be wrong about some of his tactical conclusions.
- A great character test for yourself: when you hear something with which you disagree, what do you do? A good number of you stayed for the Q&A and asked really good questions. Thank you for engaging and for personally challenging Patrick about his assumptions. That is healthy.
- How many of you have prayed about the situation in Syria this week? I bet a lot of you have. How many of you have tried to read more deeply this week? How many of you made sure you listened to President Obama’s address? How many of you have prayed specifically for President Obama and other world leaders as they try and choose a course of action? You and I know that Syria is a chaotic mess. There are over 100,000 people who have been killed with ‘normal’ weapons. Our leaders are debating the ‘next’ step, but seeing our way to something that resembles peace and order is a long, long road. Are you up for praying, sacrificing, and engaging over the long haul?
- Part of the shock of Patrick’s sermon was its political directness. One of the things I love about our Restoration DNA is that we are not partisan. In our church, we truly have a wide mix of political opinion and political vocation. It is important to me that our church not become a partisan haven for one side or the other. However, the tension that I feel about Patrick’s sermon is the difficulty we have discerning the difference between political and prophetic. Discerning between a political agenda and a prophetic truth can be quite difficult and in our area, narratives are often hijacked for political ends. So we have to be extra discerning. Patrick was speaking from first-hand experience about the plight of people in a very unstable place. God calls us to pay attention to those people who are vulnerable and lacking justice– to pray, to sacrifice, to do what we can. A prophetic word can make us uncomfortable but we would be wrong to blow it off because it sounds like a political agenda. That said, I think a faithful response to the sermon includes: discussion with peers, praying individually and others for the situation, and continued education from a variety of sources. My temptation is to ‘just move on’ to the next thing.
This past Sunday was an opportunity to get stronger in your sermon-listening skills. It was a chance to think deeply about what was being said and to move quickly to prayer about a proper response. It was a chance to say, ‘I disagree’ and to wrestle with peers about why. It was a chance to let someone shake us in our comfortable seats and encourage us to stay engaged with a world that is deeply broken and hurting.
Pray my friends. Discern. Come Lord Jesus and bring your peace.
If you would like to listen to the audio of the sermon, we have provided it here: