A few weeks ago it was my turn to preach in our extension church in Parque Industrial. This is the place that I have described before as being like the wild west. There are literally gangs fighting over territory and sandy roads and adobe walls. When I showed up after picking up one of the young men from Arevalo, a police car pulled me over to check my documents. He seemed surprised to hear that there was a church out there. I was surprised to see a police man out there. We greeted pastor Percy and he began to tell us that the gangs were going up on the "protection" price of the buses and that they had even planted bombs at a couple of corner stores trying to scare them into paying. I began to think, "how am I going to preach to this situation?"
Thankfully the Lord had already answered my prayer in that I had chosen to preach from one of the readings from the lectionary, Psalm 17. This was one of those weeks where too many things invaded on my time to prepare for preaching and I was feeling particularly unprepared so I found myself, an hour before time to leave Sunday afternoon, on my knees begging for God's grace to be able to faithfully preach his word to this congregation. I had spent time studying the passage and organizing my thoughts but had barely gotten to the point of trying to write out the sermon in an understandable manner.
As I began to preach the passage and attempt to explain how we can apply David's cry for God's ear, protection from the wicked and his confidence in God's covenant faithfulness, it seemed that God gave me an unction that I had not felt before in preaching. I was thankful to have been able to learn from several commentaries how David made reference to the song of Moses after crossing the red sea as well as the song of Moses at the end of his life which make clear references to God's covenant faithfulness and how David applied his faith to take confidence that God is the same God in David's time who rescued Israel from Pharaoh's army. We can also place our faith in God who is the same God that rescued David from his enemies to trust that God will rescue us from the gangs around us. I still have a long way to go to become a better preacher but one thing I learned from this is that, I am nothing without spending much time on my knees before preaching. Serious study is important to understand the truth of what I am preaching, but serious prayer is just as important.
This experience of seeking God's protection in the midst of the wicked came home a lot closer this past week. This was not only a congregation where I don't live who I went to visit on a Sunday evening. This was in front of my house. My daughter was being dropped off from school by a new friend who we started carpooling with. As Meg was talking with them and was about to turn into the house she noticed a man with a gun walking up. Before she could get her friend inside she realized they were after her friend and father in the car. They took their phones and all their valuables in the car, while threatening the lives of the children in the car. Meg memorized their license plate number as they were leaving but they also saw that she was getting it. Now where do we turn for help and protection? The police are being bribed every day. Many friends encourage us not to report the license plate because the thieves will come back for vengeance. Our friends did report the incident but the police gave no confidence that anything would happen. Now what do we do? Do we believe that God is the same God as David believed in Psalm 17. Do we let the fear of man keep us from going outside again? It is a lot harder to put into practice that it is to preach. Whatever we do, we can be sure that God is the same God who rescued Israel from Egypt. God is the same God who protected David from Saul. God is real and he is present and he is the God who keeps his covenants. Even if he lets bad things happen, we can be sure that he is in control and that he is good. So we put our trust in his vengeance and justice and pray that his Kingdom come quickly. Then we get back to work in seeking to bring his kingdom here on earth through the gospel and power of Jesus Christ demonstrated in weakness, at the same time praying for boldness and for help in our unbelief.