Sermon series: Minor Prophets, Major Messages
In Elie Wiesel's autobiographical novel, The Town Beyond the Wall, he tells the story of Michael, a young Jew who survived the Holocaust. Michael traveled at great personal risk behind the Iron Curtain to his Hungarian hometown. Though his memory burned with images of the soldiers and police who had brutalized him and his loved ones, Michael returned not for revenge but to satisfy his curiosity.
"This, this was the thing I had wanted to understand ever since the war. Nothing else. How a human being can remain indifferent."
In a strange way he understood the brutality of the executioners and the prison guards. What he did not understand was the man Wiesel called a spectator, who lived across from the synagogue, the man who peered through his window day after day as thousands of Jews were herded into the death trains. His face "was gazing out, reflecting no pity, no pleasure, no shock, not even anger or interest. Impassive, cold, impersonal. The face was indifferent to the spectacle."
There is a bond, Michael thought, between the brutal executioner and the victim, even though the bond is negative. ". . .they belong to the same universe; . . . But this is not true of that Other. The spectator is entirely beyond us. He sees without being seen. He is there but unnoticed."
Wiesel concludes, "To be indifferent—for whatever reason—is to deny not only the validity of existence, but also its beauty. Betray, and you are a man; torture your neighbor, you're still a man. Evil is human, weakness is human; indifference is not."
Indifference is a deadly sin—forever a spectator on the sidelines of life.
Such were the Edomites whom Obadiah addressed in the shortest book in the Old Testament. The Edomites descendants from Esau and lived in a region south of Palestine. The people of Israel descended from Jacob. Just as Jacob and Esau fought, a feud lasted between these two people groups for 800 years. Bitterness and hatred raged. The smoldering animosity between the Israelites and the Edomites bellowed into a blaze when Edom aided Jerusalem's enemy, the great and powerful Babylon, by standing aside as a spectator.
Obadiah described it: "On the day you stood aloof, on the day strangers captured his wealth, while foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were just like one of them"(Obadiah 11, HCSB). Edom stood as spectators, doing nothing while Babylon attacked Israel. Edom betrayed her sister nation, saying she would be an ally but choosing to do nothing. Edom clearly abandoned Israel in her time of need. Then, to add insult to injury, the Edomites plundered Jerusalem after the battle. She captured fleeing Israelites and turned them over to the Babylonians. The Edomites were coldhearted cowards who deceived their distant relatives, bringing destruction and pain on the Jews.
I. The problem
Indifference is a problem. A fellow said to a man at the bus stop, "The biggest problem in our country today is ignorance and apathy." The other man replied, "I don't know what that means and I don't care." Indifferent spectators fail to take notice of their surroundings, fail to come to the aid of people in need, fail to get involved, and fail to take a stand for what is right.
Spectators say such pious sounding phrases like, "Mind your own business." "Don't get involved." "Live and let live."
Calvin Miller tells of a coffee shop conversation with a police officer. Noticing a holstered can of Mace on the officer's hip, Miller asked, "How does it work?"
The policeman removed the can from its holster and said, "Well, you take this cap off and spray it in somebody's face."
Said Miller, "What does it do?" Does it knock them out?"
"Oh, no," said the policeman. "They're still conscious, but inert." Then the policeman added by way of emphasis, "Do you understand ‘conscious but inert'?"
Calvin smiled, "Man, I've been a local church pastor for twenty years. I understand ‘conscious but inert' better than you might imagine."
II. The call
Obadiah's vision is a judgment on a conscious but inert people. He calls us to get in the game, to stop being a spectator, to assume responsibility. Far too long kind-hearted and decent people have watched from the sidelines when they should have gotten involved. We have become lax and lethargic. We have become anemic and apathetic. We have become motionless and immovable.
Erasmus of Rotterdam was the scholar who probably did more to inspire the Protestant Reformation than any other person. His writings, more than anything else, motivated Martin Luther to take the stand he did against the church to which he had formerly dedicated his life. Erasmus prepared the way for Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox. But when the issues over which the Reformation was to happen came to a head, Erasmus suddenly decided to stay silent. He was not made out of the stuff of leaders. It is no wonder that Luther—as perhaps only Luther could—wrote to Erasmus at the height of the Reformation saying, in effect, "If you will not come and lead with us, then come and spectate, and I shall see to it that you get a good back seat."
For those people who take action there is no place for back seats. We cannot win the battles to right wrongs, save lost souls, and change the course of society from the sidelines. No war is won only sitting and watching. Action is needed. Involvement is required. We are called to get off the sidelines and into the game.
When I see someone hurting I need to do as the Good Samaritan in Jesus' parable. When I see someone hurt another person, and if I am in a position to do something about it, I would be wrong not to get involved. If I see someone about to destroy their lives through wrongful choices and addictive habits it would be sin for me not to warn them of the consequences. If I see injustices and immorality prevailing in society, it would be foreign to Jesus' instruction to be salt and light in the world to ignore it. I must act. I must stand for what is right.
Martin Luther, under Erasmus' influence, led the charge to change the course of Christianity. The reformer stood at the door of the Wittenberg Chapel, nailing his ninety-five thesis, exposing the heresy and hypocrisy of the church requiring people to pay for their sins to be forgiven. At the Diet of Worms on April 18, 1521, he stated, "Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen."
In different ways we sometimes face the choice to say and do the same thing: Here I stand. I can do no other. Where is God calling you to stand? What game is he begging you to enter? What noble cause is he pushing you to take up?
III. The reason
Why should we take action? Obadiah reminded his hearers of "the day of the Lord" (v. 15). That phrase describes a time when God would pour out his wrath on a wicked world, judge the nations, and then establish his kingdom, thus fulfilling his promises made to Israel. But the phrase was also used to describe God-ordained calamites sent to punish people at any time. This is what Obadiah refers to here. The Edomites had not acted. They had betrayed their neighbors, going back on their word. God would make them pay. They would experience pain, suffering, hardship, and famine. Just as Babylon had destroyed Israel, other nations would destroy Edom.
Jesus' declaration, which we call the Golden Rule, states, "Therefore, whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them - this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12, HCSB). Jesus' words point out a positive response in personal relationships. Obadiah 15 gives the negative side: "As you have done, so it will be done to you; what you deserve will return on your own head." Paul reiterated it: "Dont be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap . . ." (Galatians 6:7, HCSB).
No matter how discouraging the day may be for God's people, a just God in heaven will pay sinners back in kind. What they did to others will ultimately be done to them. As Pharaoh drowned the Jewish babies, God drowned the Egyptian army. The men who lied about Daniel in order to have him thrown into the lions' den were themselves thrown to the lions.
IV. The finale
As you take action, there will be some days when you feel as though your deeds are doing no good. Headlines will trumpet the glory of things you know are wrong. Evil will appear to triumph over good. Immorality will prevail. Decaying society will continue to crumble. When that happens, there may be a temptation to give up. Don't you dare do it.
Just wait a while. You will see that God always has the final word, the ultimate victory. The last chapter in every story is always his, and it's always good. That's why the prophet concluded his brief book with these words: "The kingdom will be the Lord's" (v. 21). Judgment and victory are in God's hands. May we never forget that. May we live as champions and winners regardless of the present score. We know the final victory belongs to God, and with him, we always win.
One morning in December 1955, a seamstress and devoted Christian, a member of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, decided to move off the sidelines and into the game. She chose to take a stand. A bus driver told her to vacate her seat and move to the back of the bus. This Christian was an African American and a white person wanted her seat. In one of the most courageous choices of the twentieth century, she did not move, and she started a revolution. The next Monday night 10,000 people gathered at her church to pray and to ask God, "What do we do next?" Because of that choice, a difficult revolution began. Many were beaten, many were imprisoned, and some even died. But it changed the conscience of a nation - all because a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, Christ-following seamstress dared to act.
We cannot afford to stand by watching the moral disintegration of this society God has placed us to love and to serve. We must rise up in the name of Jesus and seize the day for him. We can no longer remain on the sidelines, indifferent. We must act and act now.