Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 12)

Text: Psalm 145:13-14, 19-20 (Psalm for the day)
The Lord is faithful to his promises; he is merciful in all his acts. He helps those who are in trouble; he lifts those who have fallen. Ö He supplies the needs of those who honour him; he hears their cries and saves them. He protects everyone who loves him.

Our protecting God

On her day off, Emily went to the nearby town to do some shopping. After visiting a number of shops, she left the shopping centreís car park, and before entering the highway she stopped and looked both directions. It looked clear for her to make a turn onto the highway. But just as she pushed on the accelerator, she heard two loud knocks on the boot of her car. She slammed on the brakes and turned around to see who was behind her. No one was there. As she turned around to the front of the car again, a semi-trailer roared past her. If Emily had pulled out, she probably would have been killed. Emily knew that God had protected her that day with one of his mighty angels. Her guardian angel had distracted her long enough to prevent her from pulling out into the front of that speeding semi-trailer.(1)

I suppose that many of us could tell stories of how we have miraculously escaped serious injury even death. Some would call Emilyís experience a coincidence or simply good luck. Others would say that they are still here today to tell the story because of the protecting hand of God over them or the ever-watchful presence of a guardian angel.

We hear of this kind of heavenly protection in numerous places in the Bible. The first that comes to mind is Daniel who is thrown into a cage of lions because of his loyalty to God. Miraculously he escaped certain death. Daniel explains, "God sent his angel to shut the mouths of the lions so that they would not hurt me" (Daniel 6:22).

We hear of the same kind of angelic protection in the Book of Acts. Peter had been imprisoned and an angel appeared in Peterís cell and led him to safety passing one guard station after another and then through the iron gate that led outside the prison (Acts 12:5-11).

In the middle of a storm at sea, an angel of God stood beside the apostle Paul and assured him that all on board would survive, even though the ship would be destroyed. He expressed his trust in God's protection. Sure enough the ship went down but everyone was saved (Acts 27:23-44).

The Bible has an endless supply of stories about those who have experienced the protection of God.
An angel warned Joseph and Mary of Herodís dreadful plan and so saving the infant Jesus from the certain death.
God stood beside a small boy as he confronted the Philistine giant, Goliath.
He watched over Jacobís son, Joseph, saving him from his hate-filled brothers and the lies of Potipharís vengeful wife.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were protected from the flames of a blazing furnace. The king had to admit, "There is no other god who can rescue like this" (Daniel 3:29).

Mutsuko Hasegawa was a young Christian widow who lived in Hiroshima working for her sister-in-law, a doctor in the city. Her life seemed to be on track again after the death of her husband. But soon she began to sense a voice speaking to her. It was so persistent that it almost seemed as if everyone could hear it: "Escape to the mountains, escape to the mountains.í

Hiroshima had not been a military target at any time during the war, and yet Mutsuko kept hearing the insistent words: "Escape to the mountains, escape to the mountains!" Finally, Mutsuko obeyed. She gathered up her three children and a few belongings and, in a hired truck, left Hiroshima.

At 8.16 the next morning, a blinding flash and a mushroom cloud engulfed Hiroshima. She believed that Godís angels had led her and her three children to safety. (2)

It might be argued that we donít see saving acts like this today. When was the last time you saw a guardian angel who provided a miraculous escape like that experienced by Daniel, or Peter when he was freed him from his prison cell, or Paul or Jonah when they were saved from the briny deep.

We read how the disciples found themselves in trouble of a number of occasions when they were caught in the middle of storm in a small boat. They were about to drown and each time Jesus appeared on the scene, sometimes walking across the water. He stilled the storm and then wondered why the disciples had such little faith in God's protecting hand. Does God still come to our rescue like that?

Be assured that Godís protecting hand is as strong as ever.
We are his beloved children;
he has made us and saved us with the blood of Jesus;
he has brought us into his kingdom through the water of baptism;
he has promised that he will be with us always with his divine protection and will always watch over us as we endure the ups and down of this life.
He has promised to always be there watching over us as we are confronted by Satan and his evil angels who try to inflict some kind of harm on us;
he has promised to be there at our dying moment to comfort us with his presence, assure us of the new life that we will have when we leave this life and finally to transport us to heaven when we have taken our last breath.

A house painter was at work on top of a tall ladder that leaned against the second-story of a house. A small boy playing in the yard discovered the ladder, and as is natural for small boys, he began to climb it. His mother came out to check on the boy and was shocked to find that he was more than half way to the top of the ladder.

As the woman stifled a scream of panic, the man at the top looked down, saw the child, and instantly perceived the danger. Signalling the mother to be silent, he calmly said to the child, "Look up, sonny, look up here to me, and keep climbing." Rung by rung, he coaxed the child ever higher. "Come on now, keep looking up, keep coming." At last, the child safe in his arms, the painter carried him safely to the ground.

Each of us is somewhere on a ladder. If we look down, what we see may terrify us. God is saying, "Look up to me; keep looking up, and you will never be dismayed or undone by whatever is down there. Keep looking at me because looking down at the horrible prospect of what will happen if you fell will only terrify you all the more." So we are encouraged to keep on looking up because thatís where our safety lies. We look up, take heart, and keep climbing.

We look up at the face of our Saviour and see his love and concern for each of us as individuals. He will not stop reaching out to help us until we are safe in his arms. It doesnít matter what circumstance and situation it is that fills our heart with fear, he is there for us just as he was there with his special help for all the characters I mentioned earlier.

If you suffer some kind illness that will not easily go away,
or if death has taken from you a close family member,
or you feel depressed and upset at the way life has treated you or because you feel uncared for and unloved,
or you find yourself doing the same sinful action again and again
God is right there beside you. He will strengthen your faith, and enable you to emerge with a renewed trust in his presence and power and a renewed confidence in his love for you.

He is like the man at the top of the ladder inviting us to keep on looking at him, to trust him and the fear and dread will disappear. Jesus is concerned about what happens to us along the way through life. We saw it today in the Gospel reading when Jesusí compassion for the hungry crowd is clear. Feeding such a crowd of people was all too hard for the disciples but for Jesus there was no doubt about his concern for the crowd. He took a boyís lunch and made a feast for the thousands of people there that day.

The most striking example of Jesus protecting care is seen on the cross. Sin, Satan and evil threaten our happiness and our relationships with God and those whom we love. They threaten our lives now and for eternity. We are powerless to stop the devastation that evil does in our lives. So God sent Jesus. He took on our human nature; he suffered and died for us. He came to protect us and save us.

Godís protection doesnít mean that we will never suffer any setback or any serious illness. There are times when Godís protection will be miraculous and there will also be other times when the help that God gives us his strength and support to help us see our way through a time of difficulty.

The psalmist got it right when he said,
"The Lord is faithful to his promises;
he is merciful in all his acts.
He helps those who are in trouble.
He hears their cries and saves them.
He protects everyone who loves him.

(1) From Angels Around Us, Douglas Connelly, IVP 1994

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th July 2009

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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