||21st Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Exodus 17:19b Sermon
October 9, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
397 "Love Divine All Loves Excelling"
351 "Where Cross The Crowded Ways Of Life"
262 "Deck Thyself With Joy And Gladness"
436 "Rejoice The Lord Is King"
CHRISTIANITY IS A POSITIVE THING!
TEXT: “Tomorrow, I will go to the top of the mountain, with the staff of God in my hand.”
I’m guessing that most of you are at least somewhat familiar with Dr. Robert Schuller. If you have turned on the TV on a Sunday morning and caught one of his broadcasts, you would have heard him preach to a crowd of thousands of people gathered in the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. And if I have it figured correctly, the congregation has been in existence for over 50 years.
It’s a magnificent building with a lovely organ, a choir, and an orchestra. It is a beautiful worship setting.
If we were to go back 50 years ago, we would find a young man just out of seminary who was sent by the Reformed Church in America to start a new mission in Garden Grove, California from nothing—from scratch.
His first church was a rented drive-in movie theatre. His wife Arvella played the organ, which they carried around in a trailer hooked to the back of their car. Dr. Schuller preached from the roof of the concession stand. And the people came in their cars, and worshipped in this rather unique setting.
This was the starting point of this congregation, which has now grown to be one of the largest Christian assemblies in the world. It is televised throughout the United States and in many other countries.
Dr. Schuller’s philosophy in his ministry was to be the “voice of positive Christianity.” Even though his theology is rather weak in my estimation, yet there is something very good about his idea. And so with this in mind, I would like to tell you here this morning that Christianity is indeed a very positive thing.
In making the statement that Christianity is a very positive thing, a very old problem begins to surface. The sad truth is, people have made following the Lord into something that is a very negative thing.
Our text for today is very short, but to the point. Moses says, “Tomorrow I will go to the top of the mountain with the staff of God in my hand.” So let’s look back at the setting of our text for today, and examine briefly the situation we see there.
The people of God had been in Egypt under the appalling conditions of abusive slavery. They were crying to be set free, so they could return to their homeland of Israel. And so God heard their cries, and he did set them free from this slavery. What a time of rejoicing and happiness! They could go home!
And so they began what would turn out to be their 40 year journey back home. What a positive thing to have happen! They were once in bondage and now were set free! They were going home! And on the trip, the Lord was guiding them, and feeding them, and watching over them every step of the way.
But what should have been a positive experience for them was turning into a very negative experience. They became disobedient and committed crimes against each other. Instead of being thankful to God for giving them what they needed, they complained that God wasn’t giving them what they wanted. They got themselves into such a state that they even turned their back on God and turned to idols with the hope that they could find what they wanted there. God in every way made the prospect of following him to be a positive thing, and yet the Israelites themselves made following God to be a burden, a chore, something to be tolerated and endured, and in every way, they made following God out to be something negative.
But it didn’t stop there. It continues. At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees and Sadducees were the negative voices of a dead religion which in turn taught the people that the voice of Orthodox Judaism was a voice that brought burden, and woe, and a God that nobody wanted to follow.
And then it goes on, right through to the 16th Century and the grass roots of Lutheranism. Martin Luther was tied up and literally drowning in a sea of negative religion. He was not at peace, he was not happy, and he did not see Christianity as a positive thing.
But thankfully the Lord lifted the scales of negativity from Luther’s eyes, and he saw the Christian faith for what it really was. Hey! This is positive! Christianity is a positive thing! Following Christ isn’t something that is to be suffered and endured. Being a Christian isn’t placing yourself under the yoke of slavery. Christianity means freedom! Christianity is positive! And so Luther himself became the voice of positive Christianity which set the Reformation in motion.
So you see, this is not some new concept. It is as old as history itself. God has been telling people over and over again that following him is a positive thing! And not only does he use words, but he gives example after example that his way is the positive way! So what is the problem? Why has Christianity become so negative for so many? Why aren’t people seeing that the truth of God is positive?
It’s because of the various traps the devil leads us into. Sin is the big one. We’re all guilty of sin, and we know that. We can’t pretend sin simply doesn’t exist or try to sweep it under the carpet. We can’t ignore it. It needs to be dealt with honestly.
Is this a positive thing? It certainly can be! Because when we know about sin, then we can be cured! God’s law is like an X-ray to the soul. It brings the problem to the surface so the proper treatment can take place. God doesn’t want to keep flogging you with your sins and worries and problems, and he doesn’t want us to keep flogging ourselves either. God wants to remove them from you! That’s what Jesus gives you through faith! That’s what Christ lived and died for! That’s freedom! That’s positive Christianity!
But where the negative seems to take hold, is where we concentrate more on how bad and evil we’ve been, rather than how good Christ has been. We all tend to have this affinity toward negativity. We concentrate more on our sin, rather than our forgiveness. That’s the very thing that plagued Luther for so many years. And that’s the plague of negativity that overwhelms so many Christians today.
In Psalm 42 the Lord tells us, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” Those are words of positive Christianity indeed.
Today in our text, Moses also has some positive words. He says, “Tomorrow I will go to the top of the mountain with the staff of God in my hand.” Do you know the circumstances under which he was saying those words?
The Israelites were under attack by Amalek. They were being overpowered. They were under the threat of complete annihilation, sure to be killed. The people were in despair. Oh, what to do, what to do. And so that evening, Moses boldly says, “Tomorrow, I will go to the top of the mountain with the staff of God in my hand.”
When Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea, he touched the water with the staff of God in his hand. When Moses struck the rock for fresh water in the wilderness, he struck it with the staff of God in his hand. And now as death and disaster threatened the whole people, Moses knew where to get help and power. In the midst of the utmost negativity, Moses makes a very positive statement. With all confidence, Moses says, “Tomorrow, I will go to the top of the mountain with the staff of God in my hand.” That staff was the very power of God himself, and Moses had it right there in his hand.
Do you wish that you could say what Moses said when you are faced with adversity and problems? Do you wish that you could make such a positive and bold statement in such a negative situation? Do you wish that you had that staff Moses had in your hand? Do you wish that you could tap into the power of God in the same way that Moses did?
You do! You can! You have! How you ask? No way, you might say? Let’s apply this and see how it fits.
Life itself on this earth isn’t easy. Life itself in a world of sin and strife can be seen as a negative existence. There are so many things that threaten us and our faith. There are so many things that can bring us down.
Each new day sees new challenges. And when we have new goals, then we will face new challenges to achieve them. Furthermore, you know that you can expect these challenges to come along for as long as you draw breath. And as challenges and difficulties come upon us, they appear like mountains we have to climb, and some will be more difficult than others.
One lady I used to visit in the nursing home was bed ridden with rheumatoid arthritis. She had a goal that each day she would roll over in bed once by herself. That was her mountain.
In our Epistle lesson for today, the Apostle Paul has some good advice. In Philippians 4, 11-13 we read: “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
So what do the mountains in your life look like? I’m sure you’ve got them—we all do. And as these mountains in our life come upon us, how are we going to meet them? Are we going to try to find a way around them? Are we going to try to ignore them and hope they go away? Are we going to stand at the bottom of the mountain and be too timid to climb up? Or are we going to say with Moses, “Tomorrow I am going to go to the top of the mountain with the staff of God in my hand?”
That’s what Moses said in the face of negative adversity. Martin Luther went to the top of the mountain with the staff of God in his hand when he stood up to his adversaries and said, “I cannot, I will not recant anything. Here I stand.”
And Jesus Christ himself went to the top of the mountain. That mountain was Calvary. And he hung there and died so that through faith in him, you and I could take the staff of the redeeming and loving power of God, and would see ultimate victory over sin and the devil.
Christianity is a positive thing. This is what God keeps trying to tell us and show us. God loves you…that’s positive. Jesus died for you…that’s positive. Your sins are forgiven…that’s positive. God will hear and answer your prayer…that’s positive. God will never leave you nor forsake you…that’s positive. God will lead you safely home…that’s positive.
The voice of the church must be the voice of positive Christianity. Dry and obscure theology and dead orthodoxy and meaningless traditions and hard nosed legalism haven’t won one soul. But the Holy Spirit working through the positive Gospel message of Christianity has won millions.
How is that voice heard? Sure it has to come from the pulpit and reading God’s Word; but ultimately that message comes through you. Therefore you have a decision to make. Are you going to be the voice of positive Christianity? Work it out for yourself. Christianity is a positive thing. I am a Christian person. Therefore, I must be a positive Christian person. I must be the voice of positive Christianity.
What mountains are facing you right now, today? What are those things that threaten to bring you down? What is bringing you to your wits end? What is it that would make being a Christian a negative thing for you?
It’s time to make a decision. Make a positive change in yourself, right now. Through your faith in Christ, you have the power of God in your hand, at your disposal. There is nothing that the power of God cannot overcome. Therefore whatever negative mountain looms ahead of you, whatever challenge you need to meet, you can say positively and confidently as Moses did, “Tomorrow I will go to the top of the mountain with the staff of God in my hand.”