This sermon was delivered by Wendell Griffen, pastor of the New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark., on August 16, 2009.
Ephesians 5: 15-20.
King David died. King Solomon ascended to power. Those words summarize the constant movement of humanity. Each generation is at some point new, ascendant, and eventually takes center stage full of vigor and optimism. Meanwhile, their elders become reference points for achievements to exceed, mistakes to avoid, and lessons to learn. This process of coming and going is instructive for people who are morally sensitive for several reasons.
For starters, this process makes every new generation of humanity moral and factual witnesses that humans are fundamentally hopeful creatures. Despite all we know from history about human sinfulness, every new generation somehow believes that it can and will be better than those before it. There is a relentless hopefulness about us that refuses to yield despite all the evidence of human treachery, willful ignorance, and error in our personal and collective histories. We somehow believe that history does not necessarily dictate the future for humanity.
At the same time, history shows that we are morally vulnerable creatures. For all our hopefulness there is abundant evidence that we can make great harm to ourselves and each other. David became king of Israel knowing the errors of King Saul. That knowledge did not keep David from making errors that, in a real sense, came to define the course and character of his leadership. Solomon, in turn, certainly knew about his father’s faults and failings, yet made mistakes that similarly defined the course and character of his leadership. Human history is witness to our moral vulnerability.
So people of faith are faced with a paradox. We are fundamentally hopeful, yet are morally vulnerable. Given all that we have witnessed about human foolishness, deceitfulness, cruelty, and honest error across our history, why do Christian people insist on being hopeful? Why have we not become hope-weary, hope-fatigued, and hopeless about our potential? Why do we somehow, in spite of the all the ways we have failed ourselves, God, and each other, defiantly live in hope, learn in hope, age in hope, and finally choose to die in hope?
We are hopeful because we trust the sovereign goodness of God! Christian people are not fools, idiots, or stuck on some romantic notion about human virtue eventually producing a golden age of truth, goodness, and justice. We are witnesses that people can and often do choose to be vicious rather than virtuous. We are witnesses that people can and often do choose to be deceitful rather than truthful. We are witnesses that people can and often do choose to be self-serving and self-dealing rather than generous and noble. We are witnesses that people can and often do choose to be cowards rather than courageous. And we are witnesses that the harm presented by human sinfulness has both personal and social impact.
But beyond all the painful history that we have learned and witnessed, people of faith are also witnesses to the over-riding truth affirmed in Scripture that God is sovereign and good. Yes, humans are free moral agents. Yes, human choices have immediate and long-term consequences, both good and bad. But all that we have witnessed and understand about our moral vulnerability and sinfulness does not outweigh or outshine the goodness of God. The message of Scripture affirms that divine goodness ultimately rules and over-rules everything else.
Jesus Christ is the highest and best witness that divine goodness is sovereign. The human response to Jesus, as shown by his life, ministry, and crucifixion, demonstrates that humans are free to reject divine goodness in tragic ways. But in the resurrection, Jesus represents the triumph of divine goodness over our moral vulnerability. In the resurrection, Jesus is the ultimate proof that God is good, and that the goodness of God ultimately rules and over-rules human sinfulness.
Trust in the sovereign goodness of God inspires us to prayer. Solomon knew that his father David had not been a perfect man or king. Yet, Solomon recognized that God had been good to the Hebrew people despite David’s faults and failings. Because the goodness of God over-rules the badness of humanity, Solomon chose to hope. Solomon’s prayer at 1 Kings 3 is evidence of that hope. Solomon, the son who lived from the marriage of David and Bathsheba, offered a prayer that confessed his own vulnerability yet bristled with hope that the goodness of God would grant him the wisdom to be a blessing to his people. Like Solomon, wise people in every generation are praying people because they understand that the sovereign goodness of God rules and over-rules the affairs of humanity.
Faith in the sovereign goodness of God has propelled people in every generation to see and trust God to be moving and working even in the weary situations of life. This faith in God’s sovereign goodness caused African slaves to believe in freedom despite being force-fed by preachers who proclaimed a fraudulent gospel that God ordained them to be slaves. The Negro spirituals and other freedom songs were produced by people who sang praises to God despite their pathetic situations. The spirituals, like hymns and other songs of faith, stand as evidence that people can trust the sovereign goodness of God even when scarred and made weary by oppressive situations.
Being witnesses to the sovereign goodness of God gives us the moral authority to do more than sing and pray. Belief in the sovereign goodness of God should also inspire us to confront and counteract human sinfulness and the oppressive systems produced by it. As believers in the sovereign goodness of God that is excellently revealed in Jesus Christ, you and I are duty-bound to be agents of redemption, liberation, justice, and hope.
Today and always, you and I have countless opportunities to shine the light of God’s sovereign goodness into the lives of oppressed, confused, and desperate people. We can begin by reminding our age that the goodness of God provides enough resources for all of us. We can afford to provide health care to everyone. We can afford to create an economy where every working person earns a living wage. We can afford to create an education system where every child is encouraged to enter the world of the mind. We can afford to create an economy and have a clean environment. We can afford to not try to kill everyone we dislike or disagree with. We can afford to live with each other as children of God, whose goodness is sovereign.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we have right and the responsibility to remind our age that these and any other forms of injustice are insults to the goodness of God. We have the moral obligation to be witnesses of divine goodness, justice, grace, peace, and hope to a weary world. We have the moral obligation to be prophetic witnesses about the abundant goodness of God in a world where many do not have enough because others are fearful and self-centered hoarders rather than faithful and loving helpers.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are beneficiaries of the sovereign goodness of God. That obligates us to live the faith in God’s goodness that we sing and pray about by working to accomplish the justice and peace of God. Let us do so with glad hearts and in the constant spirit of prayer, knowing that we can trust the sovereign goodness of God for the wisdom and strength we need to be witnesses of love, truth, justice, peace, and hope in a weary world. Amen.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.