A sermon given in Spanish at El Shadai DC, Georgetown South, Manassas, Virginia, April 28, 2019 (Spanish link).
Good afternoon. Welcome to El Shadai DC. For those that do not know me, my name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a Christian author and live with my wife in Centreville, Virginia. We have three grown children.
This afternoon we continue our series studying heaven on earth. Because we are created in the image of God, we want to do all those things that we see God doing. As the Bible says, we serve a God who listens. Follow a suggestion from Pastor Julio, I will focus on the example of the life of my father—the other Stephen Hiemstra as I often introduce him.
All praise and honor are yours, because you hear our prayers, comfort us in our afflictions, and rescue us from death itself.
We confess that we are unworthy of your affections and we thank you for teaching us to love.
Draw us now to yourself. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts, illumine our minds, and strengthen our hands in your service. In Jesus’ precios name, Amen
Today’s Reading comes from the Book of Exodus 22:21-27. Hear the word of the Lord:
You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless….And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I often tell the joke that when we speak to God, secular people call that prayer, but when God speaks to us, they call it psychosis.
While Christians are accustomed to God listening, one of the most astonishing attributes of God is that he listens to us! (2X) For example in the Book of Judges, we read:
And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. (Jdg. 3:7-10 ESV)
In this passage we see a model known as the Deuteronomic Cycle, which has four parts: the people sin, they fall under subjugation, they cry out to the Lord, and God proves a savior (Deut 30:1-3).
Crying out to the Lord may sound like a strange prayer, but the point is that God listens to people who suffer, even when it is well-deserved. As the Apostle Paul writes: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Rom 5:8 ESV)
This example of the Deuteronomic Cycle that we see in the Book of Judges is especially interesting because we also read: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdg 17:6 ESV) This time was in many ways similar to our own and we know that maltreatment of immigrants, widows, and orphans can evoke the wrath of God (2X).
History of my Family
This passage has a special meaning for my family because my father devoted his entire professional career to nutrition and food programs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). My father worked as an economist in program like food stamps, the school lunch program. And women, infant, and children (WIC). My father was known as the father of the WIC program because he helped set it up. The primary beneficiaries of these program were immigrants (minorities), widows (single moms), and orphans (disadvantaged kids).
These days my father is eighty-eight years old, he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, and lives with my mother in McLean. Virginia. In 2016, I published his memoir with the title: My Travels Through Lifebefore writing my own memoir to introduce other people to my father and to learn more myself about his story.
The Hiemstra family came to the United States in 1853 from Holland and the family spoke Dutch for about 100 years in the house and in church. My grandfather refused to teach my father and his brothers Dutch because he wanted them to think of themselves as Americans and because he believed that the Dutch in Holland gave up believing in God.
My father grew up in poverty on a small farm in southern Iowa. Up until the Second World War my grandfather worked the fields with horses and the house had no running water or an indoor bathroom. My father and his brothers attended a small country school. Much later my father graduated from Iowa State University as one of the first in the family to attend college.
My father was a brilliant student, he studied hard, and paid for his studies by joining Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). After graduation, the Air Force sent my dad to serve in Korea. Much later he completed his studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He received his doctoral degree in 1960 and the family moved to Virginia where dad began working for USDA.
Although we did not have a lot of money when I was growing up, our necessities were met, we had our faith, and we had each other. In every town we lived in, we found another church willing to receive us.
For many years in USDA my father traveled to set up new food stamp programs. He spent, for example, a lot of time in Puerto Rico where today two our of three persons received food stamps. When I began my graduate studies much later in Puerto Rico, I got to meet many of my dad’s collogues on the island.
A couple of years ago. I learned that as a yo9ung man my grandfather aspired to becoming a pastor, but he did not have the money to finance his studies so he went into farming. My father continued the tradition of working in agriculture while my uncle John became a pastor. In my case, I was an agricultural economist early in my career and later went o seminary completing both of my grandfather’s ambitions. As a young person, I was close to my grandfather but I did not know about his ambitions until after his death.
Finally, when I published my father’s memoir I was surprised that he did not say much about the impact of his faith on his career. He was a man of few words. But all through the years he always attended church on Sundays and supported the church with special interest in world missions. As a family, we are much blessed by his example.
We worship a God who listens to our cries for mercy and also listens to the aspirations of our hearts. As Prophet Jeremiah wrote:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.”(2X; Jer. 29:11-12 ESV)
This promise is real today as always in the life of those who receive it as in the case of my family.
Thank you for your forgiveness and your presence in our everyday lives. In the power of the Holy Spirit, grant us the strength to listen more intensively to those around us every day. In the previous name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Stephen J. Hiemstra. 2016. My Travels Through Life. Centreville, Virginia: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC (Amazon.com).
I sometimes joke that when we talk to God, secular people call that prayer, but when God talks to us, they call it psychosis. While Christians are accustomed to God answering prayer, one of the most astonishing attributes of God is that he listens. For example, in the Book of Judges we read:
“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand.” (Jdg 3:7-10)
Pattern in Judges
Brueggemann (2016, 59) records this pattern: “(1) doing evil, (2) angering YHWH enough to produce historical subjugation, (3) crying to the Lord in need, and (4) raising up a deliverer.” Crying out to the Lord may seem like a strange prayer, but the point is that God listens to people in their suffering, even when it is well-deserved. As the Apostle Paul writes: ”God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)
Why does this hearing attribute of God astonish us? Well, if you do not believe that God exists or that he exists but is aloof (only transcendent), then God’s attentiveness comes as a complete surprise—why would an almighty God pay attention to an insignificant, little me? The short answer is that he loves you—enough to die for you—like a parent loves their child because you are created in his image.
God’s willingness to listen also denotes accountability, as we read:
“You shall not wrong a sojourner [immigrant] or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Exod 22:21-27)
Mistreating the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, or the poor can evoke the wrath of a listening and compassionate God. Note the penalty for mistreating widows and orphans—you will die by sword and your wives and children will suffer without you. Thus, we see that ignoring God does not imply that you can do anything that you want.
The pattern in the Book of Judges is especially interesting because we read: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdg 17:6) This description might equally apply to our own times.
Modern Examples of Accountability?
Modern example of this accountability might be found in the life of Friedrich Nietzsche, who could described as the patron saint of postmodernism. Nietzche, the son of a pastor, philosophied that “God is dead,” which implied that the Christian foundations of Western morality no longer had any relevance (Hendricks 2018). His work served as the philosophical foundation of the Third Reiche in Germany and communism throughout the world. Both atheist regimes brought about enormous suffering particularly through the Second World War, but also through concentration camps and widespread starvation, even as we witness today in North Korea.1
Could the defeat of Nazi Germany (1945) and the collapse of communism with the fall fo the Berlin Wall (1989) be viewed as the wrath of God being poured out because of the suffering caused? Was Nietzche’s own insanity2 (1889) a random events?
Personally, I think that we serve a God who listens.
Brueggemann, Walter. 2016. Money and Possessions. Interpretation series. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.