On the occasion of Epiphany, the U.S. Capitol building was terrorized by a mob incited by the President of the United States. Below is the video of my sermon from Sunday, January 10 and the sermon manuscript for the occasion.

We begin with the first two verses from Psalm 29.

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

Psalm 29 begins with a call for the worship and praise of God. The action is described differently in translations, ASCRIBE to the Lord, CONFESS to the Lord, RECOGNIZE the Lord. All of these ideas are taken from a Hebrew word which generically means, “give.” Give to the Lord “glory and strength.” Give to the Lord the glory of his name. Worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The worship and praise of God is foundational to our faith. And yet, every person is tempted to worship and give glory to false gods. And we have talk about some false gods today.

Jesus’ Great sermon warned us that we cannot share our worship between God and anything else. Jesus said, ““No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt 6:24).

We too often worship money.

One of my favorite economic parables, is the political allegory of The Wizard of Oz. L. Frank Baum authored The Wonderful World of Oz in 1900. Two years later, it became a popular musical and in 1939 was turned into the feature film so many of us know it as, starring a 16 year-old Judy Garland.

Interpreters of the story suggest that the story is actually about the demonetization of silver in 1873 and the cyclone of economic upheaval that followed leading up to the Gold Standard Act of 1900. Until the Civil War, the United States used silver and gold coins, but needing to finance the war started printing greenbacks, that were supposed to be redeemable for gold or silver at a bank. The United States only had as much money as it had gold. That caused economic stress though in that period as there wasn’t enough gold to support our economic system.

In the backdrop of this economic struggle, the Wizard of Oz is the story of a girl and her three companions hoping to get everything they want from the great green wizard of Oz. How do we get to the wizard, follow the yellow brick road (*wink wink* – gold) and never take off the ruby slippers, oh yea… the ruby slippers were silver in the book but turned to red in the movie to show off the color of the Technicolor film technology.

If only I could have enough cash, then I could get home, then I could have courage, then I could have a brain, then I could have a heart. The secret, of course, is the great green wizard is a front. There is no real magic. Luckily, you had everything you needed already, but didn’t realize it.

How often, do we live our lives following yellow brick roads thinking that if only I could have enough money for that sports car, then I’ll have everything I need.

If only I could have enough money for a new house, then I’ll have everything I need.

If only I could have enough money for that trip to Europe, then I’ll have everything I need.

Before long, without knowing it, we show up to the church of Money, praying for our reward.

The Psalmist calls on us to worship God, but there are so many false gods that we show up to worship beyond just money.

We worship beauty.

If only my body looked like that. If only your body looked like that.

We worship technology.

If only we could have a little more pixels in this TV. Like my 77 inch TV can’t just be in Full HD or 4k, show me that new 8k technology.

But we must talk about one particular idol on this occasion.

We must admit that too often we worship earthly emperors. We know we shouldn’t, early Christians after all suffered persecution because they refused to worship their emperors. They were faced with a dilemma, renounce God, worship the emperor, or die. And they chose death.

The honor we show earthly emperors easily slips beyond deference to worship. After all, our word for worship in the Bible was used both for kings and for gods. We as humans have always flirted with treating our leaders as gods themselves. That’s why the Roman Caesar would take on titles like Son of God, Lord, and Savior, which Paul and Christians would defiantly place on Jesus instead.

No emperor is worthy of the worship owed to God.

This week, we’re reminded the importance of Christians steadfastly rejecting worship of an emperor of our time, President Donald Trump.

You know too well what’s been going on in the world, but I must give some background to illuminate the theological challenge we face.
After weeks of failing to come to grips with the reality that the votes of Americans resulted in the election of President elect Joe Biden, the President began an unprecedented attack on truth and reality, raising the temperature of an already divided country. The President assumed he was owed his power and title, that it was rightfully his regardless of what voters decided.

He abused his power and pushed our democracy to its limits. He sought to undermine the election by intimidating local officials in many states, even of his own party, secretaries of state, judges, congressmen and women, and crowds of his supporters to do whatever it takes to keep him in power. Our constitution survived in part because some Republicans were willing to hold to their oath to a constitution and not to a President.

The wizard behind the curtain was about to be revealed without the title and honor that comes with the most powerful office in the country.
And in a last-ditch effort to hide from that reality, the President encouraged and incited an angry crowd of his most zealous supporters to listen to the worse parts of themselves and descend upon the Capitol building.

The zealous mob abused police with violence, called black police officers the N word, erected gallows on the outside lawn, made nooses from media camera wires, had bombs in nearby buildings and vehicles, wrote “murder the media on an office door,” urinated and defecated on offices, statues and hallways, threatened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and chanted “Hang Mike Pence.”

As this was happening, congress and staff were evacuated and kept in hiding, though many remained in offices just on the other side of the mob. Republican politicians’ interviews about that day are very telling. Republican sources in the White House described the president’s reaction as “delight” and confused when others weren’t also excited that the mob was trying to step up to overthrow the election for him.

Was the President concerned for his Vice President’s safety? No. As his VP was being hurried away for protection, the President tweeted an attack on his own VP for not overthrowing the will of the American voters. As of last night, the Vice President’s camp said that he still had not reached out to the VP since the event occurred.

Instead of quickly trying to prevent the violence of the moment, the President called members of congress like Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville, to try and persuade them to object to the counting of the electoral college. Why, because all that matters to him is himself.

When insurrectionists stormed the capital building Wednesday, they did so with many flags: the American flag, the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. They walked the Confederate Flag through the halls of Congress. They walked the thin Blue Line flag, supposedly in support of police, as they murdered a police officer and assaulted others, the painful cries of which you can watch online. But even more, they walked the flag of Trump into the halls of congress. Without realizing it perhaps, they were marching against the constitution and constitutional duties of congress in support of their political messiah, the only one they think can save them and the country.

The Trump worshiping crowd included state level politicians, off duty police officers, and plenty of other occupations. There were also neo-Nazis with shirts about Auschwitz death camps and conspiracy theorists like the Q-Anon Shaman wearing bull horns and fox skins draped around his head. There were also those who claim to follow Christ.

You can watch videos of the “so called militia,” Proud Boys, praying together before the march. You can watch that Q-Anon Shaman I mentioned with a sign saying “Q Sent Me,” which on the back of the sign said “Hold the Line Patriots, God Wins”. Others held signs saying, “Jesus Saves.” In the middle of the Capitol building someone walked around a Christian flag.

As Jesus proclaimed, you can’t serve two masters. If you don’t choose Jesus Christ, no one else will be able to live up to that title. Trump has positioned himself as a savior to his most extreme followers, and too many Christians have betrayed worship of the true savior for an impostor.

Voting is complex. Please hear me say that voting for the man does not necessarily mean you worship him. But there has been a unique danger the last 4 years because he sets himself up as a “strong man” that draws in his followers to accept and enable whatever behavior and actions he does. Christians and the church should never become pawns of any political party or candidate. We are entrusted with a prophetic voice that should critique and inspire people of differing political ideologies.

In our desire for elasticity and supporting that political flexibility, we must also be adamant in rejecting idolatry and violence.

In Michigan, and in this very region, our backyard has become a domestic terrorist breeding ground for those who sought to assassinate our governor. We cannot as Christians sit by and ignore the violence that is growing around us. We cannot ignore that people believe they are following God while committing evil. We cannot ignore the idolatrous worship of leaders that leads to violent mobs.

To anyone and everyone who has fallen prey to worshipping our emperor, REPENT.

If you have found yourself talking abusively and crudely like our President, REPENT.

If you have found yourself hating others because of our President’s rhetoric, REPENT.

There is only one Christ, and his name is Jesus.

The Psalmist, which called on us and all of creation to give our worship to God describes the great divine storm rolling in.

If you’ve found yourself afraid of what those in power might do, listen to the Psalmist describe the power of God in comparison.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The power of God is like the storm you see coming on the horizon. The ominous looming presence is on the horizon and overtakes you. The power of God causes all things in its path to quake. The mountains shake, the trees sway, the animals skip. All are moved by God’s voice.

This Psalm is not just a call for worshipping God written in a vacuum without its own historical context. This Psalm contrasts God of with the Canaanite gods Baal or El as a thunder god. While the gods of that ancient time were often depicted victorious in battle over the cosmic elements, especially the chaotic waters. God in this Psalm exerts power not with violence, but with God’s voice.

The focus on God’s powerful voice echoes Genesis 1 and God creating all things with a spoken word. The truth of God is coming and will resound throughout the cosmos. And all will quake with the power of God’s voice.

Think of the propaganda, the lies, the attempts to sweet talk that leaders who seek power often attempt. Compared to the puny people who act like they have power, God’s voice overtakes them. Whoever seeks to abuse their power on others, whether the Pharaohs, the Caesars, the Emperors, the Presidents, the Chancellors… all are miniscule in comparison.

To those who are afraid, to those who feel there is no hope, God’s storm is coming. Listen to the thunderous rumble of God over the noise of evil in this world.

Today, we celebrate Epiphany with the public ministry of Jesus beginning with his baptism by John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was definitely NOT a people pleaser. He was willing to speak truth about the sins of the people, including those in power. I have no doubt, that if John the Baptist lived through 2020… he’d have SOME THINGS TO SAY. There would be a lot of sins called out and calls for repentance. And that bluntness led to John’s execution at the hands of Herod Antipas.

It sure seemed like the storm of God’s kingdom that was coming was going to bring judgment and guilty verdicts on everyone.

The powerful Word of God was surprising though. Because true power does not have to use it. And so, Jesus modeled true power by being vulnerable. Jesus’ path to death and resurrection robbed the MIGHTY ROMAN EMPIRE of its fear tactic, shameful public crucifixion.

When soldiers came to wrongfully arrest Jesus, Jesus didn’t stir up a mob to retaliate. In fact, Peter wanted to do just that. Jesus told them to put away their swords.

In the midst of excruciating pain from a cross, he pronounced forgiveness on those who didn’t even ask for it.

In Jesus’ life and death, Jesus pronounced that GOD LOVES you, and does not hate you.

John of Patmos, in the book of Revelation, describes the ushering in of the new heaven and earth, not with a violent mob uprising, but with Jesus conquering the beasts and emperors of this world with the SWORD of his MOUTH. The Word of God is victorious.

And so we long for God’s kingdom whirlwind to show up in our midst. And the voice of the LORD will RING LOUD and it will speak truth to power and vindicate the oppressed and grieving. But it will also pronounce love and peace and hope.

When faced with such a loving, powerful God, and in such contrast to the idols and false gods of this world, what can we say?

Psalm 29 says the voice of the Lord 7 times, and yet never quotes a single word that the Lord says. The only dialogue quoted, is the response of all who are in God’s temple.

 Psalm 29:8 says,“The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

To all who have longed for justice, and for peace, and for equality, and for love and forgiveness and health… the storm of God’s kingdom is coming. If you see it, cry out “Glory!”

All who have gone into the waters of baptism have at one point in their life declared that Jesus is Lord and witnessed the power of God’s rule over the waters that seek to destroy us.

You might not realize the imagery as well if you’re used to indoor baptisms in nice baptistries, but John’s baptism was going on in the Jordan river with flowing water. The chaotic waters that seek to roll over us and consume us are conquered by God.

If you have been baptized, remember your baptismal confession. Don’t let anything else in your life rise to the level of rival to God. Resist the temptation. Continue to make God Lord of your life.

If you have never gone to the waters of baptism, the church offers you the opportunity to look past the powers of this world and look to one who is worthy of power and love and faithfulness. Choose to say “Yes,” GLORY to God!

If you’ve repented of something today, the world needs to hear your shouts of God’s glory and that transformation is possible.

That’s what you have the opportunity to do today, to worship God.

Here’s what God’s response is and always will be. Psalm 29 concludes:

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
    May the Lord bless his people with peace!

May we follow the only Lord who can bring true peace.

If you want to hear more of my sermons, you can follow them on FBC JXN’s sermon playlist on YouTube.