(Micah 3:5-12; Psalm 43; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12)
I spend a lot of my time driving. I commute to Canton to pastor this church. I commute to Southern CT State University to teach and advise students. I drive Tula to Newington to dance a few times a week, and I drive Kiran places, too. I also drive to Madison to visit and help care for my 92-year-old parents. And, sometimes, I even drive to go someplace just for pleasure! Some days, I spend three hours in the car, driving. While I’m doing all this driving, I either listen to National Public Radio, listen to K-Love, or pray. My driving time is learning time and communing-with-God time.
This past week, I learned from NPR that there has been some backlash to President Trump’s declaration that the opioid addiction crisis is a public health emergency. The backlash consists of people saying that opioid addiction is not a health issue; instead, it’s just people wanting to have a good time with friends – or something like that. I heard a quote from a woman who has that opinion, then I heard the father of a daughter dead from heroin addiction respond. In a voice trembling with grief and wet with tears, he told of finding his daughter curled into a ball in her closet as she suffered from and struggled with heroin addiction. She wasn’t out partying with her friends. She was isolated, lonely, and in tremendous pain. In short, she was suffering from a disease over which she no longer had control.
As I listened to his story while driving past The Big Y grocery store and making sure I was paying attention to traffic on my way to Southern CT State University, a deep sadness fell over me. I have journeyed, in one form or another, with people with addictions for my whole life. I know the experience first-hand. And I know how hard it is to recover from addiction. And, so, a deep sadness fell over me.
However, a deep joy followed the deep sadness, because I, as someone in relationships with people struggling with addictions throughout my life, found deliverance. I found God, and God redeemed and reclaimed me and brought me home to Him. I vividly remember being confronted with a choice: I could continue to think and live the way that I had been taught in a world gripped by the pursuit of things that will never satisfy, or I could choose to take a leap of faith and walk with God into the heaven on earth He was offering me. Which choice presented reality? Dare I believe that what God was offering was real? Could life be joyful and peaceful? On one side of the path I was walking was hell on earth; on the other was heaven on earth. Which was real?
Thank God, I choice to trust God and believe that heaven on earth was possible with Him. I began my serious relationship with God and later went back to my Christian heritage to become a disciple of Jesus. I discovered that redemption is real. We are not doomed to live in the hell we create for ourselves. God is always inviting us into His reality, which is heaven on earth. The invitation is always and forever. And we can accept the invitation at any time.
What I learned, ultimately, from my experience with the world of addiction, is that only God is good. Psalm 16:2 states, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” Or, as the song in Godspell states, “All good things around us are sent from heaven above.” (Youtube video of this song is posted below.) And, I would add, all good things within us are sent from heaven above. The good in us comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the light of Christ.
It is vital to remember this as we go about our daily lives, for people, corporations, organizations, and governments will try to tell us that they are good for us. They will try to convince us of all sorts of things that they will tell us are good for us. And, we will, likely, be tempted to believe them, because we want to feel better and we want answers to our problems. It seems easier to use a quick fix rather than wait on the Lord. A quick fix will relieve our fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, uncertainty; all those negative emotions will go away, at least for a time. However, they will return, later, when the quick fix wears off, and they will return with a vengeance, furious that they were silenced. And they will take their revenge. And it will hurt.
Even so, we will be tempted, every day, to believe the lies, to fall for the arrogance, to be taken in by the pride. The Gospel According to Matthew scripture passage reminds us that those in power will try to lord it over us: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.”
Human beings and human organizations will sin. Some will sin in small ways, others in grand ways, but all will sin – including us! We are not immune! We will sin, too. What is the antidote? To remember that only God is good, and to turn to God, to cling to God, to never let go of God and His Word. As Jesus says in the scripture reading: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.” No one is above anyone else, for all are children of the Most High and students of the Messiah.
No one is above anyone else and the way to remember this and to live it is to be humble and to serve. As Jesus states, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” If we are not humble and we exalt ourselves, we will, eventually be humbled by our faithless attitude and actions. Yet, if we are humble and we serve, we will, eventually, be exalted by our faithful attitude and actions. “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” God seeks from us humility and service, for these are the things that express God’s love through us to the world.
God offers us heaven on earth. His invitation is always and forever. We need only accept his invitation and follow Him. When the world beckons us with all that glitters, we must cling to Jesus, for only God is good. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson, Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, November 5, 2017, the Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost.
The image in this post is from http://getupwithgod.com/wp-content/uploads/GUWG-Goodness.gif