When the foundations collapse
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:
September 13, 2013 @ 2:53 pm
I was not there because I have heard this man preach before and didn’t think I could take it — again. But aren’t you good to bring it up for discussion? That’s gutsy, David.
IMHO and BTW, it is a disservice to anyone’s message to demean/insult the leader of the country where one is a guest.
While what Fr. Sookdeo said about the suffering/martyred church is apt, the last time I heard him preach — admittedly some years ago — he was so hateful about Muslims that it seemed to me irrational, especially considering our value in this country about not tarring every member of a group for the acts of a few. Not to mention that, at the time, I had a largish number of Muslim students who were terrified that they would be being deported as a result of 9/11 so I was of necessity protected from what I perceived to be a rant.
It is true that I am pretty liberal, but not liberal enuf to enjoy having the country we served for so many years trashed; I just don’t blame us for everything and I think it displays amazing ignorance to do so.
Let it be said that the suffering church around the world take a prominent place in my own prayers.
I’m just sayin’ . . . . .
September 13, 2013 @ 4:00 pm
I appreciated hearing from Patrick. We must hear and read about the persecution of Christians in other parts of the world and grapple with the complexities of what we find. No, I do not want to stereotype anyone, but neither do I want to bury my head in the sand about very real and messy conflicts happening in countries that we, as Americans, tend to view somewhat idealistically through our own Western eyes. It is our obligation, as citizens and believers, to keep listening to various points of view and especially to first-hand witnesses of life in tumultuous places so that we might seek the truth, not just affirmations of our own individual moral leanings, and then pray and vote responsibly.
September 13, 2013 @ 10:28 pm
We were sorry to miss last week. Is there a recording available?
September 14, 2013 @ 5:10 pm
I would like to hear this sermon…. was it not recorded?
September 15, 2013 @ 6:42 am
Ardeth and Nancy, thanks for your comments and for your honest wrestling with how we respond to challenging teaching.
Jessica and Mary Ann, we are working on posting this sermon on our site. When we have the URL, we’ll put it here. The sermon will be outside of our normal podcast delivery vehicle.
September 15, 2013 @ 8:34 am
The audio is now up. Please look for the player at the end of this blog post.
September 17, 2013 @ 5:13 pm
I’m really proud of our community in navigating this. I’m proud to attend a thoughtful and prayerful church that navigates the real turbulance of the world humbly asking for wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
I also really appreciate the way engaging the tough stuff is modeled. I have prayed for Syria and much more urgently over the last week. God guide and preserve our way, and may that way be IN you.
September 19, 2013 @ 3:15 pm
These were the prayers of the people that were prayed in our service after the sermon. I think they do a great job of capturing Restoration’s heart and hope in the midst of this:
Lord, we thank you for Patrick and pray that the words he shared with us may touch our hearts, prompt us to educate ourselves, and move us to action.
Lord I lift up the work of the Barnabas Fund. We take for granted that we can worship you freely and in peace, too often forgetting our Christian brothers and sisters who cannot do this and who boldly proclaim your name in the face of persecution.
Lord, we pray particularly for the people of Syria. We grieve with you over the lives lost and the continued violence. Guide the world’s leaders in prudent, just decision-making in helping to bring this situation to a swift, just and sustainable resolution. Protect the innocent lives of Syrians in country and who have fled the war.
September 19, 2013 @ 11:04 pm
MIDDLE EASTERNER HERE. STEP BACK!!! 🙂 David H, once again, I am blessed by your sensibility and discernment. Not always will the guest speaker represent the views of the congregation but your character, approachability and heart of peace allow you to challenge the congregation with these perspectives (even when you don’t know what the speaker will say) and I think we all appreciate you for it, when we agree and when we don’t agree with what is said. Thank you for being so approachable.
A VOICE OF DISSENT: One common them among the people in my life who spend a lot of time with my biological brother, sister, myself and family is that they always come around and view the Middle East and the role of the U.S. to intervene in almost a completely opposite way after having spent time with us. These are loving but in depth conversation rooted in history, facts, quotes, culture, a history no person regardless of brilliance in the U.S. understands from a textbook. My family has lived there for hundreds of years. My parents fled. My father could not return to see his dying and then deceased father because the govt would get a hold of him and not let him leave again. When you live in this culture and live in this history, and when you live side by side with the Muslim Brotherhood, you see beyond a peaceful soundbite from a well dressed educated man who does charity work with the brotherhood. You see the lies. Why is it everyone in the middle east agrees on things like the “coupe” (which wasn’t a coupe) and Syria and on and on. Why is it Egyptians have been saying things like brotherhood is bad news when the folks in the highest levels of U.S. Govt are saying “they are peaceful” and acquaintances of mine who are very high level believe this also. It truly breaks my heart how naive we are. I saw the harsh offended reaction people had to Patrick on Sunday but I admit I also enjoy watching my brothers and sisters get a little taste of what the entire middle east feels. We have no right to interfere. They have no need or interest in our money. We are not entitled to anything. And Egyptians laugh at the money that is given in order for the U.S. to “preserve their interests.” The middle east would be a better place if American just took care of America inside it’s walls. How many terrorists have we helped install to date by always trying to take sides. We say we don’t take sides but we fund terrorism. Love, peace and happiness! – Mark
S & T
September 24, 2013 @ 4:50 pm
It’s a sign of a mature church when you can give the platform to a guest speaker who you can guess in advance will ruffle some feathers and not see the world through the same prism as the congregation.
I live in the Middle East. I have just listened to his message on line. Patrick chose his words carefully. Despite that I am sure his message seemed hard to some of you in Washington DC. The line he took would be consistent with how many people in this region, Christian, Muslim and secular, would interpret the politics of the West (Europe included).
Feel free to disagree with him, but please keep your hearts open to the hurting hundreds of millions in this region who suffer from war, poverty, deprivation and the daily grind of hopelessness.
I have been encouraged by your president’s willingness to cooperate in a bid to bring peace to Syria even though Putin has taken the lead role. His openness to dialogue with the new Iranian president. His reluctance to throw weapons of destruction and young men and women’s lives into yet more zones of conflict in the Gulf.
You live and work in a key city in this needy world. May your discussions and understandable disagreements lead you to pray for peace and God’s hope to break into this part of the world. It’s happened before as the gospels testify.
We need another visitation.