Get Us Out of Here

by Rev. L. John Gable

Get Us Out of Here by Rev. L. John Gable
January 15, 2017

2017 has been declared the “Year of Jubilee” at Tab!  The Year of Jubilee: God’s pronouncement in the book of Leviticus that every 50 years “the trumpet shall sound and liberty shall be proclaimed throughout the land” (Lev. 25:10).  Jesus called on this understanding of the Year of Jubilee when He initiated His public ministry saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives and recover of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4).” We will talk more about the meaning of the Year of Jubilee in a couple of weeks, but as part of our recent Vision Renewal process we recognized that we are 50 years out from the seminal report written in 1966 in which we put down the stake stating that we were going to stay in this location to be a “witness for Christ in this metropolitan area.”  For these reasons and many others we declare that this is our “Year of Jubilee” as we recommit ourselves to the work of striving for greater faith, of going deeper in our relationships both among ourselves and with our neighbors, and of building a stronger community through reconciliation, justice and advocacy.

But before we can talk about our need for liberation and release from captivity, in any sense of that word, we must first acknowledge that we are, in fact, being held captive to someone or something.  In like manner, before we can ever accept or appreciate the Good News of God’s forgiveness we must first admit that we are sinners.  Before we can commit ourselves to righting injustices we must first admit that there are injustices which need to be righted.  Before we can desire a new way of living and being in relationship with one another and with God we must first own up to the fact that the way we are living now is inadequate and leaves something to be desired, at least according to God’s standards.

Admittedly, such admission is difficult for many of us.  We like to gloss over our shortcomings.  Admittedly, change is hard, even change for the better, and for most of us change is not possible, not worth the risk or the effort or the struggle, unless or until at least one of two factors is present.  Either the conditions in which we are presently living are so miserable or destitute that they bring us to the realization that something has to change, or we are given a new vision or understanding that there is a better way.  Sometimes it is one of these or the other, often it is both; but without these, real and lasting change will rarely take place and relapse and regression are inevitable.

In our passage from Exodus today the Children of Israel have been in the bondage of slavery in Egypt for 400 years.  We read, “The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out…and God heard their groaning.”  Friends, if you hear nothing else in this message today, hear this: God hears us when we cry.  No matter how dark or desperate our situation may be God hears us when we cry…and comes to act on our behalf, because He loves us.  You are never as alone as your fears tell you you are, and you needn’t cry very loud because God is closer than you think.

God heard the people’s cry, then called Moses, through the burning bush that was not consumed, to lead the Children of Israel out of land of slavery in to the land of Promise; out of their present condition in a land of suffering and deprivation in to a land of plenty, “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  This becomes a repeating theme and pattern in Scripture.  We recognize our desperate condition and cry out to God; God hears our cry and sends a Deliverer who brings us out of bondage in to freedom.  But He will not, He cannot, deliver us unless and until we recognize and admit that we are in bondage.  We won’t bother to follow the One who has come to set us free unless and until we recognize that we are being held captive, to someone or something.

There are many examples of this, but fast forward 600-700 hundred years in the story of Scripture, the Children of Israel now inhabit the Promised Land and have established a nation, but they have fallen away from following the Lord, so they are overcome and carried away in to exile in Babylonia.  Once again they cry for deliverance from their captivity and God hears their cry and sets them free.

Fast forward another six centuries, the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, is held under the control of the oppressor Rome, so they cry out for deliverance and pray for the coming of a Messiah who will deliver them and set them free.  He comes, of course, in Jesus of Nazareth, but the deliverance He brings is not political but spiritual, and not for them alone but for all who are held captive by the weight of sin.  Jesus came in to the world to save sinners, to set us free from that which holds us captive and separates us from God and one another.

In our lesson from Romans this is the very point Paul is trying to make to both Jews and Gentiles, when he says, “all are under the power of sin…no human being will be judged justified in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.”  Unless and until we recognize our captivity to the bondage of sin and our inability to free ourselves from it we will never think to cry out for a Savior, much less commit to following Him when He comes.  Admission of our guilt and wrongdoing, or wrong being, and confession of our sin is the essential first step in hearing God’s pronouncement of forgiveness and of experiencing the release of His grace.  Unless and until we first recognize our need, the announcement of the Good News, “In Jesus Christ you are forgiven” will be meaningless to us and fall on deaf ears.  But once we admit our need we have a God who listens to our cries and responds, who acts to deliver, because He has shown us a better way to be and live and relate to Him and one another.  Admission of our guilt is the difficult yet essential part, hearing and believing God’s pronouncement of forgiveness is the life-giving part that allows us the power and grace to make real and lasting change.

Sometimes we make changes because our present condition is so miserable, so deplorable, that we simply have to get out.  There are also times, however, when we make those very same kinds of changes because we see a better or more desirable way of being or living.  I am the fourth of four children.  When I was five years old my parents decided we needed to move because their little two bedroom, one bath house did not fit a family of three girls and a boy.  So we moved all of five blocks away on the very same street in to what I will remember as my childhood home.  Why did we move?  Not because there was anything wrong with the old house, only that it was too small, our family needed more room.

Tabernacle Presbyterian Church was founded in 1851, really it was called Third Presbyterian Church at the time, but that is not the point of my telling.  Our first building was on the corner of Ohio and State streets just off of the circle, until the 1880’s when we moved all the way up to 11th and Meridian because we felt there were too many churches in the center part of the city.  Then in 1921 we moved again, way out, to 34th and Central, because there were no churches out here providing Christian Education classes to the children of the Mapleton-Fall Creek neighborhood.  We moved, we made the change, not because there was anything wrong with where we were but because we felt God’s call and were given the vision of this kind of ministry.  Fast forward again in our own story: in the mid 1960’s this neighborhood had already undergone substantial changes due to economic downturns and white flight to the suburbs.  Again we had to make a decision, stay or go, remain in place or move north to the suburbs?  In 1966 the decision was made to stay and that decision has impacted our life together and the kinds of ministries we offer ever since.  We believed then, as we believe still fifty years later, that God has a purpose for our being here; that there are issues we are being called to respond to and needs and injustices we are being called to address that we cannot respond to unless we are in this place, in this neighborhood; issues of health and safety and education and housing and food security, homelessness and poverty.  We recognize that there are social issues which are holding us captive, in bondage; that are keeping us and our neighbors from living the abundant life God desires for us.  So we are committed to staying here and doing our part to help address these issues because we believe God is calling us to do so, in His name.

On this Martin Luther King holiday weekend we are reminded of the words of that great modern day prophet who envisioned a new day, for our nation and for his very own children, when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  That statement alone captures the essence of what is necessary for true and lasting change: a dissatisfaction with the way things currently are and a clearly articulated vision of the way things could and should be, a better way for the future.

Of course there are societal issues, but there are also personal issues which continue to hold each of us in bondage and captivity: issues of strained and broken relationships, of addiction, of unhealthy behaviors and thought lives, issues of prejudice and bigotry and jealousy and greed and hardness of heart, and the list goes on.  All of these cause us to succumb to the angels of our lesser nature; all of these are symptoms and evidence that we “have indeed sinned and fallen far short of the glory of God.”

As long as we accept the “false truth” that that is just the way it is and that it will never really ever be any different, that despite our best efforts things will never really change because we are “only human”; then we will continue to be confined by the bondage that continues to hold us down.  So, the mere act of naming the brokenness and injustice of the way things are and of envisioning a new and better way for the future is the beginning of change, but it takes faith and courage to take that first step and make that first admission.

In his book, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King wrote, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men and women willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the force of social stagnation.  We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

So let me put it this way: if you don’t believe that there is anything that is holding you back from being all that God has called you to be;

That there is nothing in your life or in any of your relationships that is broken and in need of healing;

That there are no injustices in the world, this city, this neighborhood, even in your own heart, that need to be addressed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ;

Then I will suggest that anything we will be talking about in the next couple of weeks won’t really make sense to you either.  If you are not yet convinced that there really are problems that need to be addressed in your life or in our life together; issues of injustice that need to be righted or from which we or our neighbors need to be delivered; if you don’t acknowledge that there is a brokenness in your soul or in our communal soul that needs a Healer; or that there is a sin that condemns you for which you need a Savior; if you never find yourself crying out to God, like our ancestors in the faith have done since the beginning, saying, “Get us out of here… we can’t do this on our own…we can’t set ourselves free from that which binds us…we can’t save ourselves”; then hearing the Good News that Jesus is our Jubilee will likely fall on deaf ears.

However, if you have experienced any of this for yourself; if you have cried out for deliverance for yourself or another; if you have owned up to your sin and brokenness; if you have acknowledged your part and complicity in the injustices which plague us, then you will want to be here in worship with us next week and in the weeks to come because we have Good News to share of God’s mighty acts of deliverance.  And for all those who know they are being held captive it is Good News indeed.