Hearing Their Cries

12/02/2009

Wow.

So we’re sitting in class last night and Pastor John is leading a discussion based on the “Advent Conspiracy” (http://www.adventconspiracy.org/) about materialism and someone reads from James 5, verses 1-6. In verse four appear the words, “the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.” It’s part of a frightening warning from James about riches and their potential to destroy us.

No sooner had that passage been read than I thought of a quote from John Woolman, a Quaker who attended their Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1758. Why? Certainly not because I’m a great historian. Five days earlier, I had included this quote in my sermon during our Thanksgiving Eve Service. Here’s the scene: the debate over slavery is raging and the stakes are high. Woolman sits quietly, praying with his head down. Finally he gets up and speaks. He says:

My mind is led to consider the purity of the Divine Being and the justice of His judgment, and herein my soul is covered with awfulness….Many slaves on this continent are oppressed and their cries have entered into the ears of the Most High. – Foster, Richard Celebration of Discipline, pp. 157-158

Sound familiar? Cries of the harvesters. Foster writes that the annual meeting “melted into a spirit of unity” and the Quakers “responded as one voice to remove slavery from their midst.” I had included this scene in my sermon to illustrate how love can bind “together in perfect unity” (Col 3:14). But suddenly my sermon didn’t matter at all. What mattered is this: James was given a message from God, wrote it down, and then over 1,700 years later it becomes the basis for a huge step in abolishing slavery in the United States.

That’s exciting! And that’s how God works sometimes. Remember Moses and his Promised Land? You might recall that after forty years of meandering, Israel finally gets to cross the Jordan…but only after Moses dies. God had told them, “not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times, not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it. (Num 14:22-23) Only the spies Caleb and Joshua, who had acted faithfully forty years earlier, were allowed to enter. Philip Yancey, however, reminds us that Moses did eventually get to set foot on the Promised Land—with Elijah and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). You know how that Moses liked to bargain with God!

The point here is that God’s will will be done! We just don’t understand the timing and the events that have to happen between alpha and omega. God hears the cries of the oppressed and responds while we walk around oblivious to His plans. It reminds me of a few Sundays ago when my head was blocking the projection onto the sanctuary screen! I was oblivious until someone pointed it out.

Doom and gloom surround us every day and threaten to block the illumination provided by the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17). Know today that He is not sitting on His divine hands and know that His Son longs to gather us together “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (Luke 23:37). (By the way, I saw a hen doing that the other day for the first time on a little farm and it was beautiful to see! What a picture of how Christ could care for us if, like the trusting chicks, we would just let him!)

The Advent season in which we suddenly find ourselves provides further proof of God’s mysterious way of doing things. In a few weeks we’ll celebrate the birth of the helpless baby who could have come in a blazing chariot leading legions of angels to defeat evil once and for all. God had a different plan and I think it’s fair to say He’s got some other ones cooking, too.

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