Note: I don't remember exactly what prompted me writing this sermon, but I do know that some of it came from postings I saw on the soc.culture.african.american (the so-called "black" newsgroup) regarding the manner in which the black community reacted to the burnings of black churches. And, it afforded me the chance to get political, which I love (smile). So take a read and check it out.

Good morning. The scripture will be taken from the book of Isaiah, the 29th chapter, verses 13 through 24. Again, that's Isaiah 29: 13-24.

The Lord says: "These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish." Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, "Who sees us? Who will know?" You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "He did not make me"? Can the pot say of the potter, "He knows nothing"? In a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field and the fertile field seem like a forest? In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. The ruthless will vanish, the mockers will disappear, and all who have an eye for evil will be cut down-- those who with a word make a man out to be guilty, who ensnare the defender in court and with false testimony deprive the innocent of justice. Therefore this is what the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, says to the house of Jacob: "No longer will Jacob be ashamed; no longer will their faces grow pale. When they see among them their children, the work of my hands, they will keep my name holy; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel. Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding; those who complain will accept instruction."

Let us meditate on the subject this morning:

A New Spirit of Understanding

In this passage of scripture, Isaiah, quoting God, is speaking to the Israelites who have a superficial faith. All talk and no actions. Those Israelites who say the right words, but there is little conviction behind them. God is also saying that the Israelites are more concerned with worshiping Him on the terms that they have created, instead of worshiping God on His terms.

Isaiah then goes to speak pity on those who try to hide their true selves from God. He asks the Israelites that since God is the creator of all things, how can his creations try to best him. He then reminds them of the promises that God has made to them, about destroying Lebanon. He tells them how the wicked will vanish and the jesters and doubters will disappear, and how those who are of evil intent will be struck down.

He them reminds them of what the Lord said to the house of Jacob, by telling them that no longer will they be ashamed, and how when they see the work of the Lord, they will keep the name of the Lord their God Holy, and how they will acknowledge the Lord in their works.

Isaiah, through the words of God, concludes this part of scripture by saying that those who are lost in spirit will receive a new understanding and those who complain will not only receive, but accept a new understanding.

When considering this scripture, I am reminded of the recent church fires that have spread across this country. There have been a myriad of theories advanced of who did it, what for and why. There are those who would like to charge the white supremacists for this, those who would ascribe the deeds to some wayward children, and even those who are saying the pastors and church members themselves are responsible for these incidents.

Now while it has happened before that a pastor has burned his church for the insurance money, this time, there is a pattern. And sure, these is the possibility that there are copy cats out there, but there is a disturbing trend in the incidents over the last 2 years, particularly when it comes to black churches.

According to recent figures put out by the Justice Department, since the beginning of this decade, approximately 75 to 100 churches are burned each year, with a majority of them being white churches. Out of these churches, the fires can be ascribed to faulty gas leaks, careless smoking, electrical fires, but only a small percentage of them being arson. There are those who are saying now that the burning of these churches is no big deal, because it happens on a regular basis.

But when out of the almost 50 black churches that have been burned in the last 2 years, less than 10 percent can be ascribed to foundational problems, such as those I just mentioned. That means that almost 40 churches have been deliberately and maliciously burned. And it bring it closer to home, at least 3 or 4 of these churches have been A.M.E. churches.

There are segments of the black community who are saying that there is not enough public outcry against these fires. There are those who say that the black Christian community is relatively quiet about these matters. That we are sitting down and waiting for the government to come in and do something about the problem. They might be right. But that is not the major point here. The point is who is doing it and why.

When the Lord said in these scriptures that people come to Him with words from their mouths and not from their hearts, he is speaking of people who set these church fires, because if in fact they are of the white supremacist persuasion, that means that they call themselves Christian. So that means that there is one Christian preventing another Christian from worshiping their God in House. That means that there are Christians out there who have no problem worshiping in their place of worship on Sundays, but somehow black people do not need a place to worship.

Historically, the black church has been the place for us to come together, and not only worship and fellowship, but to become informed. The black church is where a lot of us receive our early education in how to learn and live. The black church is where we get our early foundations in life. The black church is a safe refuge from the troubles of the world, because it is in the church that we are able to shed off our troubles and give ourselves over to God, if only for a couple of hours each week. But this is a place where we get our direction, where we get our comfort, where we get a sense of stability. This is where we feel safe.

The people who are starting these fires do not want us to have any of these feelings. They still want us to feel inferior and paranoid and suspicious. They want us to think that they, not God, are in control of our lives and our destinies. They want to express to us that this is still a world where the so-called majority makes the rules and determines the fate of people.

But God is right there with us, with the people who have lost their places of worship. In fact, the Baptist church in Oklahoma that was burned a couple of months ago, just last month raised over $10,000 in one afternoon to go to their rebuilding efforts. And it wasn't just Baptist churches and members contributing, there were people of every denomination, of every walk of life, politicians, business leaders, community activists, fraternal organizations and every other facet of the community that you can think of, came out and contributed to this church so that they can rebuild. So while they suffered through the tragedy of losing their church, God has made it able for this church in Oklahoma to rebuild, and potentially make it better than what it was before. So we see what these people who set the fires did not know. That you can not stop the progress of God.

GOD IS LIKE A HIGH SPEED TRAIN. TRAVELING A HIGH SPEEDS THROUGH THE LANDS AND THROUGH TUNNELS, OVER RIVERS AND BRIDGES. IGNORANCE CANNOT STOP THIS TRAIN, FEAR CANNOT STOP THIS TRAIN, MALICIOUS ACTION CANNOT STOP THIS TRAIN. NOTHING CAN STOP THIS GOD-TRAIN, BECAUSE IT IS THE ORIGINAL. THIS IS THE TRAIN THAT HAS MADE IT POSSIBLE FOR EVERYTHING TO HAVE LIFE. THE TRAIN OF LIFE. SURE IT MAKES PERIODIC STOPS TO GIVE FOOD TO THE POOR, OR TO LIFT THE SPIRIT OF THE WEAK, BUT IT NEVER STOPS FOR LONG. IT HAS ONE DESTINATION. THE LAST STOP ON THE GREAT TRAIN OF LIFE. IT JUST KEEPS ON MOVING, FROM ONE FLOCK TO ANOTHER. GOD IS THE TRAIN, THE HOLY SPIRIT IS DRIVING THE TRAIN AND JESUS IS THE CONDUCTOR. AND THAT TRAIN IS TAKING US ALL TO HEAVEN.

BUT THE PEOPLE WHO SET THESE FIRES ARE GOING TO MISS THIS TRAIN. WHEN THEY PRESENT THEIR BOARDING PASS, IT WILL BE REJECTED BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT THAT THEY WERE GREATER THAN THIS GREAT TRAIN. BUT FOR THOSE OF US WHO ACKNOWLEDGE GOD AND ALL OF HIS WORKS, WHO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE CANNOT HIDE OUR TRUE SELVES FROM GOD, WHO GO ABOUT AND DO HIS BIDDING, WHO ARE CONSTANTLY HUMBLE AND SEEKING THE FACE OF GOD, THEN, AND ONLY THEN WILL WE BE ABLE TO BOARD THIS GREAT TRAIN OF LIFE.

But getting back to the scripture. God is telling us not to be hypocrites. Jesus echoed this sentiment in Mark 7:6-8, when He is quoted, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain to they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.' You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

We have a lot of people in our churches and in our Christian communities who would rather teach their own brand of religion than what is written in the Bible. I don't know how many times I have heard people dismiss the Old Testament because they think it outdated. Well, if Jesus could quote from it, and if Jesus taught from it, who are we, the sinning humans that we are, to say otherwise. But yet, these same people will pick and choose passages from the Old Testament, as long as it suits their purposes.

But another thing that Isaiah and Jesus are telling us is that we must be true to ourselves and our God. Where is says in the scripture, "Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, "Who sees us? Who will know?'", it is God who sees all and hears all.

We are told to be humble and rejoice in the Lord, but those who are trying to deceive God, are doing nothing but doing harm to themselves. We try to deceive God when we assume that those things we do in private are okay because no one else sees them. Or we deceive God when we practice behavior that is unseemly in the sight of God, yet we try to act all holy and righteous. We deceive God when we treat people in manner that we know is not of God, yet somehow, despite Jesus telling us to love our neighbor as ourselves, we think we are exempt from this particular commandment.

Those who are addicted to narcotics, or alcohol or nicotine are deceiving themselves as well. Scripture tells us to be not drunk with wine, yet we have a lot of people who seem not to be able to go a day without alcohol, or we have people who are trying so desperately to escape the problems of this life that they turn to drugs. We have people who despite their firm belief in God, and profess Christ as their savior, fail to consider how their actions affect those around them. And even worse, the ones who constantly deny that they have a problem, are not only deceiving themselves, but they are being hypocrites to God, because God sees their problem.

Other hypocrites are those who say one thing and do another. Those who stand up and profess to be righteous, but are doing the things that God finds abhorrent. Let us now fools ourselves, however. All of us are in some way hypocrites. All of us do things that are not in keeping with the spirit of God. No one is immune and no one is perfect.

But God gives us hope. For through all of our faults, he tells us that the ruthless will vanish, the mockers, those who make light of our situations or try to keep us from achieving the status that God has ordained for us, will disappear. The ones who have a penchant for evil will be cut down, and those who slander others, calling people out of their name, those who defame the names of the innocent and truly righteous will face the wrath of God as well.

Because God promises us a new spirit of understanding, when our own spirit is faltering. He promises to give us instruction when we have none. Hope when we think all is lost. Confidence when all we think we have is fear. Faith when we think we do know where to go.

When we think we need to escape from the rigors of this world, we need to turn to God, instead of turning to the bottle or to the needle. We need to get rid of the "woe is me" attitude is replace it with, "I am blessed." We should work to seek God out in those time when we need something but are not sure what we need. It is in those times that we need God. God will help us out.

But we have to make the first step. We cannot ask Jesus to come into our lives if we are not willing to make that first step towards Jesus. We cannot ask God to help us to resolve a problem, if we just want to sit around and wait for someone or something else to resolve it for us.

God is a God of action, and since we are his children, then we as well are beings of action. God has called us to take up his mantle and heed his commandments. We can't do it all by ourselves, but we can take steps towards him. For as the saying goes, if we take one step towards God, He will take two steps towards us.

So I say to you this morning, do not be like the hypocrites that Isaiah and Jesus spoke about. Do not be like those who have no direction, but claim to have all the answers. Do not be like those who would rather write their own law instead of following God's law. Those people have no place in the kingdom of God.

INSTEAD, IF YOU WANT TO GET ON THAT GREAT TRAIN OF LIFE, FOLLOW THE EDICTS OF GOD. FOR ON THIS GREAT TRAIN IS A PATH TO GLORY. A PATH THAT THE ARSONISTS OF THOSE CHURCHES WILL NOT BE ABLE TO FOLLOW. A PATH THAT THOSE WHO CONTINUE TO ABUSE DRUGS AND ALCOHOL WILL NOT BE ABLE TO GAIN ACCESS TO. BUT STRIVE TO SEEK OUT THE FACE OF GOD, STRIVE TO UPHOLD THE COMMANDMENTS. AND IF YOU FALL EVERY NOW AND THEN, IT'S OKAY. GOD WILL HELP YOU, WILL PICK YOU UP, BRUSH YOU OFF, AND GIVE YOU THAT NEW SPIRIT OF UNDERSTANDING. GOD WILL HELP YOU TO RECEIVE THAT NEW INSTRUCTION.

BUT YOU HAVE GOT TO ASK GOD FOR HELP FIRST. YOU HAVE GOT TO INVITE JESUS INTO YOUR LIFE AND WORK TO KEEP HIM THERE. AND THEN KEEP WORKING, KEEP DOING HIS WORK, KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS, KEEP THE LOVE THAT JESUS HAS FOR YOU IN YOUR HEART, SO THAT WHEN YOU STEP ON THAT TRAIN TO GLORY, ON THAT TRUE TRAIN TO FREEDOM, SO THAT WHEN YOU GET TO THAT FINAL DESTINATION CALLED HEAVEN, YOU WILL BE REWARDED WITH THE TREASURES OF OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN.

NO ONE IS SAYING IT IS EASY. IT MIGHT BE DIFFICULT AT FIRST. BUT THE HARDEST PART OF A LONG JOURNEY IS THE FIRST STEP. TAKING THE CHANCE AND MAKING THE INITIATIVE. BUT STEP OUT TOWARDS THAT TRAIN. STEP OUT ON FAITH, STEP OUT ON LOVE AND STEP OUT ON HOPE. AND WITH EACH STEP YOU TAKE, IT WILL GET EASIER, THE BURDEN YOU CARRY WILL BECOME LIGHTER, AND THE REWARDS WILL BE GREATER THAN ANYTHING YOU HAVE EVER BEEN ABLE TO IMAGINE.

Amen.



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