November 4, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Seeing a fig tree along the road, Jesus went up to it and found nothing but leaves and no fruit. He said to the tree, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered and died.” When the disciples saw this, they remarked, ‘How did this tree die so quickly?’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only could you cause a fig tree to wither up and die but you can command this mountain to be thrown into the sea and it would obey. If you believe, whatever you ask for in prayer will be yours.” (Matthew 21.18-22)
The most powerful force in the universe: the Holy Spirit.
The most powerful people in the universe: those filled with the Holy Spirit.
The most delusional people in the universe: those who use the Lord’s name in vain.
The most powerful tool in the universe: the prayer of faith offered by those committed to pray faithfully.
The greatest level of accountability: the greatest commands- love God and love one another.
I just had to write that sequence of thought down as I reread the scripture passage from yesterday. I continue to be struck by Jesus’ admonition, “If you BELIEVE, whatever you ask for in PRAYER will be yours.” How those words have been so misunderstood, misinterpreted, misplaced and misappropriated! And I heard the invitation to consider the wrong practice of it in a news sound byte from a recent media op with the current president of the United States. Now, do not get me wrong, he is not the only one who does this. We all have a tendency to fall into this line of thinking. Jesus saw His disciples “crossing the line” as they did not fully understand the power of the Word of God. Remember, when the eleven disciples gathered on Mount Tabor, the Mount of Transfiguration, with the resurrected Jesus before His final ascension, some doubted. The very presence of doubt raises question about the level of belief present. I think, however, that the disciples did not doubt Jesus in “life, death and resurrection.” Even when Thomas expressed his “doubts,” I hear more of his doubt about what the other disciples saw, why they received the revelation and not him and most of all his own calling to be a disciple. If we are honest, we all have these “doubts.” And it doesn’t mean we do not believe or believe strongly that we have these “doubts.” I ask you to consider that such doubts are the points of accountability as to our own existence, meaning and purpose.
Now concerning that media sound byte from the presidential news conference, I offer his (as many politicians, including presidents, but not politicians alone have said) power statement as an example. He said “God bless the United States of America.” As mighty men and women of God, we certainly want to believe that America has been blessed, is blessed and will be a blessing. Yet, what does it mean to say “God bless” anything if we do not believe it from very core out of which pours out words and actions? You see, the command to “not take the Lord’s name in vain” has less to do with “cussin’” and more about representation. Of course, we shouldn’t “cuss” because it reflects poorly on who we are as a righteous people. But, it also reflects on the righteous God who calls us His people. To “use the Lord’s name in vain” means to “not misrepresent the very presence, essence, revelation and command of God.” If our lives are not a reflection of believing fully in God and trusting Him with the whole of our lives, then our call for God to “bless us or them or anyone” becomes just an empty saying. It is like being a fruitless fig tree on or near the side of the road just on the rise of the hill over which the glory of Jerusalem is visible. Or even more so, by application of the story of the unblessed fig tree, the Temple itself in Jerusalem on the rise of Mount Moriah. From the distance of that hill on the Bethany Road, the Temple and the Temple Mount, gave the appearance of fruitfulness- spiritually, socially, morally, politically, economically and culturally (in whatever order you care to arrange the fruit.) But, as Jesus drew near to the “fig tree,” He saw it was “all show and no go.” What had once been seen and known as “a glory to God” was now just another façade. What did the people and the leadership truly believe in? In what or whom did they place their trust? Did they have doubts about God, God’s will or themselves as God’s people? Of course they spoke in the name of God. They invoked the “name” of God but did they truly believe in it? They certainly didn’t believe in the One whom God sent to lead, guide and direct them in the ways of God and the fulfillment of being the representation of the Kingdom of God on earth as it was in Heaven. They allowed their own “religion” to usurp the religion which God had established in righteousness. And what is righteousness if not being in “right relationship with God and God’s people”? So, when Jesus cleared the Temple before or after the death of the unblessed fig tree matters little to the message which the fig tree itself declared. That message was “you will no long bear fruit for anyone again.”
If not that tree then which tree? Perhaps the “tree of life” or “the true vine” of Christ?
If not that temple then what temple? Perhaps the “Church as the body of Christ” and the “community of faith in Jesus as the Christ, God’s Son and our Savior’?
If not that people then what people? Perhaps those who “trust in the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength seeking first His righteousness and His Kingdom” and those who “love God with equal fervor and intent as well as to love others as they themselves have been loved by the one and only true loving God”?
So, from Matthew’s sharing of the gospel at this point, we hear Jesus make the bold statement concerning the immediate impact “a word can have on things of this world” or “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Jesus declared that “if you have faith without doubt, then whatever you ask for in prayer will be yours.” I believe that also includes “whatever you say as representing God and God’s will is an offering of prayer the answer of which is based solely on one’s faith in God (both word and deed) without doubt.” Perhaps this is why there is this notion of “separation of Church and State.” Unless a nation is a true theocracy, which even democracy is not, the intention of human beings to exert leadership for and over people is more political and less theological. Look at the transition of power and leadership in Israel which moved from shepherd to judge to prophet to priest to king. How those positions functioned best depended solely, if not soul-ly, on their alignment with honoring and obeying God with the trust of faith, hope and love. When they functioned more aligned with serving self and appeasing others, there was no trust in anyone and especially no trust in God. Sadly, at that point, God (capital G) was moved to a subservient role with a diminished understanding and replaced by god (lower case g) which was a human being or worse the image of some idol to represent a human being as god. Thus, when I hear anyone proclaim “God bless you and God bless the United States of America,” I stand on the side of “I have my doubts.” I would ask:
Are you speaking for God as you have spoken with God?
Are you declaring wisdom in leadership based on the knowledge of followership?
Are you in line with the Word of God literally in Holy Scripture and “figure-atively” as in aligned with Jesus as the Christ, the Son of that God whom you have invoked as if praying for the people instead of preying on the people?
I agree that it is time for us to seek the blessing of God if this nation and this people and this world has any chance of surviving the current culture and climate created out of faithlessness to God. But, in so saying that, my prayer is based on the belief of God’s word spoken in 2 Chronicles 7.14 which says “IF my people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and PRAY and SEEK My Face and TURN from their wicked ways, THEN I AM hearing from Heaven [their plea] and will heal their land.” If that is not the intention nor the meaning of the President, political leader or religious leader words in praying “God bless America,” then there is serious doubt about the hope of anything else that may be said.
Lord, have mercy on us, we pray in Jesus’ name. AMEN.