God Cannot Be Ignored                                                       10/17/43

 

Scripture:  read John 5: 2-17

 

Of course you all remember that last Sunday was Conference Sunday, marked generally among the churches of our communion throughout this state by an exchange of pulpits.  While Rev. Charles A. O’Neill preached here, I preached from his pulpit at Nekoosa to a congregation of five people.  If you gave Mr. O’Neill as attentive a hearing as the Nekoosa folk gave me, it was a good day for the ministers involved, and, I trust, a profitable experience for all of us.

 

I understand that there was a ripple or two of merriment aroused over my neighbor’s comment on the sermon subject I announced for last Sunday.  As a matter of fact I did go to Nekoosa expecting to see evidence of the “Fellowship of Saints.”

 

For I think of saints in terms that certainly do not suggest “plaster cast perfection.”  Anyone who sincerely loves the Lord and tries to follow him (though he fall a hundred times and gets up and tries again as often) I number in that “fellowship.”  Anyone who believes in God and trusts Him almighty, I number in the “fellowship.”  I think there must have been such saints in numbers at Nekoosa and here last Sunday, and now.  And the good-natured bantering of a man who has been for 28 years shepherd of the same flock makes me all the more eager to say so.

 

Ten days ago there came to a close our annual State Conference, held this year at Racine.  Five of us from this church attended the conference as delegates.  It was to me the most satisfactory, and I think the best of the conferences I have attended since coming to this state.  The closing speaker of the conference, who addressed us as we sat about the tables after the last meal together, was Dr. Clark G. Kuebler, the new president of Ripon College.  He is not a clergyman, but a layman - a member of the Episcopal church and prominent in the work of its national committees.  Some of you have heard him speak and know how forceful he is.

 

Dr. Kuebler recalled how great numbers of the students of his own college generation lived in an intellectual atmosphere that was anything but devoted or trustful.  In fact it sat back and “sneered at the universe,” to use his own phrase.  Man, whatever he was, could get along quite well by himself, thank you; and human progress was steady and dependable, and this was the only progress worth considering.

 

Meanwhile frightful things have occurred in the world.  Blundering man, perverse man, ignorant man, evil-possessed man, has gotten into an awful mess and the mess threatens to get worse.  And man does not feel so all-sufficient unto himself.

 

People who have avoided thinking of religion for years evidenced a pathetic but genuine interest in religion recently because they have felt they must - there is no other way to turn for hope!  More and more fiction has turned to religious themes in recent years.  I imagine many of you have read “The Robe” within the last year.

 

H. L. Mencken, though corporeally alive is otherwise dead.  And George Bernard Shaw is unheeded and unimportant.  The present world wants something better than a sneer.  The intellectuals are rushing pell-mell to the arms of religion and ordinary folk cast more than a wistful glance toward any possible source of assurance of God.

 

For we are all learning that God cannot be ignored!  He is inescapable.  His way, and His will, are made manifest in His own way and time!

 

Read only bits of history to see it.  Not long ago in Doorn, in Holland, an old man died and was buried with no considerable body of mourners to lament his passing.  He had been the last emperor of Germany.  We all know some of his story.  He had been reared in the Christian faith, but he apparently dropped God out of his place and purposes.  With his generals and men of power, he set out to overturn the world order.  He assembled a host of military experts, psychologists, chemists, engineers. Wherever they met in the world, they drank to the day when Germans would rule the earth.

 

When the great day came, nothing seemed to have been forgotten.  His great army rolled across Europe crushing everything that opposed it.  It had almost reached Paris when something happened.  There moved out of Paris a great midnight procession of taxi cabs filled with French soldiers facing toward the Marne.  Next day the Germans faced not triumph, but defeat.  One of the French writers said: “It was not Joffre, it was God, who stayed the march of the Kaiser’s legions.”

 

Now another has defied the ways of God and plunged the world into the biggest and most brutal cauldron of sorrow and struggle it has seen.  The handwriting is beginning to appear now on the walls of his mighty house.  And, as his challenge to God and His way has been such blasphemy, so his downfall may be the more terrible.

 

God still rules!  He cannot be ignored!  When evil forces have seemingly had their day; when greed, and cruelty and ruthlessness and starvation have been turned loose like dogs gone wolf-wild, one is tempted to conclude that God is remote and uncaring.  Let us be patient.  “God does not balance his account at the close of every, but he does balance it.”  Let us cease our frantic mental running hither and yon and “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”

 

From the earlier years of his career down to the present, the self-appointed “leader” of present day Germany has flouted the laws of God.  His followers have boasted that a sword or pistol was sufficient answer to the suggestions of any intellectual.  Reason, love, sense of right and wrong, recognition of God, have all been flouted; when recognized it was a matter of sheerest political expediency.  But when the clouds of truly effective opposition were gathering a year or so ago, this “leader” strikes a plaintive note in one of his speeches when he assures the Germans that God will not let them lose what it has cost them so much to gain!  One wonders if a few hearers were made to feel easier with the thought that “der fuerher” knew the will of God so well that he had that also under control. 

 

It is easy for us to see the blasphemy of Hitler’s allusion to God, because his whole political theory and practice has been blasphemous in character.  But it is just as evil for any of the rest of us to speak lightly of the Eternal or to presume upon His ways.  When a business executive remarks that no competitor can destroy the spirit of his company “and God will not,” his arrogance has gotten beyond the realm of truth and decency.  The experience of the ages is that the very name of the eternal is not to be taken thus lightly.  It may seem to make no difference at the moment.  For a horribly long moment in history, the arrogant godless has his day.  But, though the mills of God grind slowly, they grind with an inevitable certainty.  Again, the experience of the ages is that “God is not mocked” - and “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”  [Galatians 6: 7].  God cannot be ignored.

 

If you and I look about us, we may see numerous evidences that God is at work and that his will is recognized.  Whatever the sins of our own nation, and they are many, there is an official recognition of the rightful place of religion in the lives of our people.  It is seen in the constitutional provision for freedom to worship.  It is seen now in the provision for chapels and chaplains with our armed forces.  No nation has ever made such generous and competent provision for its soldiers as has ours in this respect.

 

I am not placing the blessing of the church upon the hideous necessity for warfare, when I call this to mind.  I am talking about the welfare and the souls of young men, and hence, of the nation.  Comments one chaplain: “Not many of us relish the idea of ‘this war’ --- but under the circumstances, this opportunity to really serve one’s country through serving the young men in the army --- is proving to be an experience I would not have missed.”  [L. Verdette Walters]

 

Early this week, I received a letter from chaplain Jack P. Bodard of the 912th Training Group at Basic Training Center #4 in Miami Beach, Florida.  He writes: “It was a great source of pleasure to us to have David Rowland in our services this past Sunday.  [That was October 3rd] --- David is doing his work well here and I know you are proud of him.  All of the men realize the great need for religion in their program of life, and most of them are taking advantage of the religious programs offered to them.  We were happy to have David worship in our service ....”

 

In the midst of the necessary regimentation and sternness of military life, the ministry of religion, in which he can freely participate, is going to help our soldiers keep their balance and make them better men.

 

Those of us who were at Racine were impressed and pleased with a fifteen minute account of his work, as student pastor at Madison, by Leonard Detweiler.  The young man packed an astonishing lot into that fifteen minutes.  He told of the way in which his work must vary from the work when it was carried on by Hyslop, Flint and others.  Because of wartime conditions, he is in a sense a civilian chaplain to students in uniform at barracks, which in peace time are fraternity and sorority houses and dormitories.  He showed us the necessity of using all sorts of techniques and odd moments in order to make available his ministry to students.  Among other choice bits was this: there is an evident need for an informal discussion group.  It didn’t seem wise to publicize it in the “Tower,” - First Congregational Church’s new sheet - under the heading “bull session” which the young folks themselves called it.  So, with the help of Walt Disney they have called themselves the “Ferdinand Club.”  But the whimsical title does not smother the intent to discuss their problems freely, and purposefully, and under the illumination of religion.

 

And what of the missionary work of the Christian Churches in war time?  I do not know the figures nor many of the facts about other churches, but I do know these facts about the work of our own Congregational Christian missionaries under appointment by our American Board.  We now have 360 active missionaries.  Of these about 225 are on their fields in - Africa; in West China; in the Near East, Turkey and Syria; in India and Ceylon; and in Mexico.  About 135 are at home in this country on normal furloughs, in promotion work, as speakers, as government and military workers, and so on.  16 are interned in China and the Philippines.  25 have been returned or will shortly be returned on the “Gripsholm,” among them Harry Martin.  But with 225 on their fields, the vital work of Christian missions goes on!  God will not be ignored!

 

The solid structure of the world will always be built on the will of God and by those who seek to know an put their efforts into the stream of that will.

 

Someone spoke of a man who had made a great success and intimated that he was lucky.  “No! No!” was the prompt reply.  “Luck has had no part in it.  Every morning he spends a little time in communion with God, laying before Him his plans for the day; and every evening he goes to him with the record of the day.  There is no chance there.  It is a partnership he always recognizes.”

 

We can not leave God out of our business, our marriage, our home, our politics, our community welfare, our hopes or our longings.  God’s will still operates in the world and we break or make ourselves as we defy it or put ourselves in line with it.

 

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Dates and places delivered:

 

            Wisconsin Rapids, October 17, 1943

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