Scripture: Philippians 4:10-20
Author: Rev. Peter J. Boodt
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Some years seem to be full of promise and hope. These are years when great wars end, or economies improve or important breakthroughs are made in help for the hungry and healing for the sick. These are auspicious years and we love them. An auspicious year is a good year which carries promise for an even better future.
The year 2005 was not an auspicious year. It began with a tsunami having just happened in South Asia. This tsunami killed tens of thousands of people and wreaked enormous havoc in a very short period of time. Around the world newspapers and television newscasts were full of reports about the extent of the damage, and the stories of broken lives. Then there were huge mudslides in California. That summer there were more great hurricanes of the coast of Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico than anyone could remember ever occurring in a season. One of them, Hurricane Katrina, destroyed much of the city of New Orleans. Later earthquakes brought devastation to large parts of Iran and Pakistan.
When such things happen people ask a lot of questions, and one of the biggest questions they ask is why? Why did the tsunami happen? Why did God let it happen? Why the hurricane? Why the earthquake?
Do these things happen because God, who is in control of everything, wants to punish the people who are killed, or who had family members taken from them, or had their livelihood taken away? That has been suggested. In 2005 Islamic clerics especially spoke that way in their sermons. They spoke of the sins of the tourists who go to Sri Lanka and countries like that for fornication, and who, in their striving for fornication drag Muslims into their sins. So, according to them, the tsunami was the expression of the wrath of Allah.
Of course our thinking as Christians could go into the same direction. Think about the how the story of the great flood in the book of Genes has often been told.
We find it in Genesis 6:5-7. There we read: The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth.
From that we might easily draw the conclusion that natural calamities have something to do with God’s wrath over sin. That certainly was the case with the flood. Scripture makes that quite clear.
But notice something else in the story. There is more in that story than just the judgment of God. Listen once again. The Lord saw all that evil, as he does today, and he was grieved. It hurt him. It hurt him so much that his heart was filled with pain`. And that, I feel, shows quite clearly that our God is not just moved by anger. Maybe not even in the first place by anger, but also by pain.
Pain over what? Well, think about that for a moment. Say you have a son, or a daughter. You have surrounded them with all the love and care you could muster. You did so in the hope that they would grow up to be a worthy member of the family. Maybe there were dreams that they would help the family business to grow and prosper. But it all turned out quite differently. They turned out to be a blot on the family name; they proved to be the ruin of the family business.
Yes, they still are your children, but….
Listen again to those words, it grieved the Lord that he had made man on earth, and his heart was filled with pain.
Now is that what tsunamis are all about? Is that what deathly mud slides are all about, or the earthquakes, or hurricanes? Are they expressions of the wrath of God, the anger of God? Are they punishment for sin?
The answer to that question is not simple.
Suppose for a minute that those things are, were punishment for sin, who are the guilty?
Are the people who were hit by those calamities the guilty ones? The people who were killed? Or the people whose family members were killed? The people whose livelihood was taken away from them? The children who were left orphans?
Do you really want to point the finger here? Can we say that the victims of those calamities had it coming to them, while we who live safely do not?
We know better don’t we? We know that we are not one whit better. Not only that, we know what our Jesus said about things like that. There was a report about a tower collapsing on a number of people, and the question was asked whether that had been punishment for their sins. And our Lord denied that. He said that the people to whom that had happened were not more guilty than anyone else. But, he added, if you do not repent, you will all perish. And it is rather clear what he was pointing at. With those words he was saying that the thing we should pay attention is not the question whether people are guilty yes or no. What we should pay attention to is that the wrath of God against sin is very real for all of us. It is not something to be taken lightly.
This is something that Lord Jesus was very aware of. Look at where his life was going. Look at what he had to go through. He knew he was moving toward death on a cross. He was also aware that it was not to atone for his own sin. He had none. He knew it was for our sin. It was for my guilt, for your guilt, for the guilt also of those people who were hit by the calamities we have been talking about.
And that is why we do not have to live in fear. This is why we do not have to live like children who have a father or a mother we have to tiptoe around lest we raise their anger. We do not have to live as people who live constantly under that kind of threat. Calamities may come our way, perhaps a tsunami or an earth quake, or perhaps any one of many other kinds of disasters. But we do not have to live in fear of judgment. We can live with confidence. We know Jesus Christ and him crucified. We know that our sins have been punished already in him. Believing in Christ as our Savior we do not have to fear the Lord’s anger.
But thank heavens, that is not all. There is much more. That is made clear in the words of our text for this morning, the words which Paul wrote to the congregation in Philippi. We read:
My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Let’s listen to those words very carefully.
First of all let us note for a minute what moved Paul to write those words. Paul is very thankful that his brothers and sisters in Philippi, his fellow believers share in his troubles. Apparently they did that by sending a gift of some sort, most likely money, by the hand of Epaphrodites. That made him very happy. Just as happy, I would think, as any victim of disaster today who receives help from people who care.
But Paul was not just happy and thankful for the help he received. No, he was happy and thankful for what receiving that help showed him. He tells the Philippians what it showed him. What it showed him is “My God (and your God, and we may say, our God) will supply all your needs, all our needs, according to his glorious riches in Jesus Christ.”
Now in order to understand the glory of that, the wonder of that, we have to understand what our true needs are. Yes, I know there are all kinds of things we need. We need food and drink, we need shelter, we need acceptance by others, and so on and so forth. But what is our deepest need. What is your deepest need, and what is mine?
Our greatest need is to be delivered from self centeredness. My need, and your need is to be delivered from the tendency to always think of ourselves first.
What are those glorious riches in Jesus Christ which Paul is talking about in this context? It is a new heart! A circumcised heart! A heart that is filled with love for God and for my fellow human beings!
Time and again after great natural disasters make headlines all over the world there is an outpouring of help. People old and young use their ingenuity to raise funds and to get help to the people and countries which are hit so hard. Why do they do that? If we look at such outpourings of help with the eyes of faith we realize that what we are really looking at is the work of God. He is moving people to fill the need of humankind. He works through the need of humankind to be a community.
It is true that the aids epidemic which is just a serious, and all kinds of other terrible things do not cause such an outpouring of help. But that does not testify to a shortcoming on the part of the Lord. The trouble is not with him. The trouble is with us. Our eyes are not open wide enough to see, our ears are not open wide enough to hear the cries for mercy which climb up to heaven.
But the Lord hears. And the Lord will supply all our need. He has started renewing our hearts. He has started filling our hearts with his love. And his hand will finish the work he has begun. We can count on it. And believing that we can be part of his supplying every need by the power of his Spirit.
Listen, and let us sing:
What God ordains is always right; his will is just and holy.
He holds us in his perfect might, in Christ our lives are godly.
He is our God and all we need, the father who preserves us still.
To him we bend each heart and will.
What God ordains is always right and he will not deceive us.
He leads us in the way of light and will not ever leave us.
In him we rest who makes the best of all the stumbling turns we take
And loves us for his mercy’s sake.
What God ordains is always right, all that he does is for us.
He heals our souls and gives us sight and puts no ill before us.
Our God is true, he makes us new, our lives are built upon a rock,
Our cornerstone and building block.
What God ordains is always right he guides our joy and sadness
He is our life and blessed light, in him alone is gladness
We see his face, the way of grace, he holds us in his mighty arm
And keeps us safe from every harm.
Suggested Order of Worship
Opening exercises, such as the call to worship, possibly silent prayer, and the Lord’s greetings interspersed with some praise songs.
Service of reconciliation with the call to repentance, a prayer of repentance (perhaps sung) and an assurance of forgiveness followed by a song of thanksgiving.
Possibly a call to holiness via an appropriate Scripture reading, and then a song of dedication.
This might be a good opportunity to invite the congregation’s offerings.
Congregational prayers, followed by a prayer for illumination.
Children to Sunday school. Children’s message?
Scripture reading: Philippians 4:10-20
Text: Philippians 4:19
Sermon: What is God Doing?
Song of response: PH 451
God’s blessing and a closing song.