During my rural Mississippi student pastorate a farmer kept a hunting hound called “Obadiah” which he had purchased for himself but later gave to his brother. One day I asked him why he called the dog “Obadiah.” He replied, “For the same reason I gave it to my brother; sorry thing never was no good for nuthin’ except sittin’ on the porch lookin’ out at the world.”
Students, you are more likely to meet a lazy hound dog called “Obadiah” than hear a sermon from the book of Obadiah. The shortest Bible book, it is one of the most neglected in preaching and teaching. To the best of my knowledge, I have never heard a sermon from Obadiah. Nor have I ever heard a preacher allude to the prophet in an illustration. Upon hearing that I was going to speak to you from the book of Obadiah, one of my colleagues responded, “You really are determined to bore them. I can’t imagine you finding anything positive or creative to preach out of grim old Obadiah!” Well, I did.
An exposition of Obadiah brings us face to face with at least three great themes of importance and urgency.
Obadiah teaches us to know our enemies.
A crucial part of spiritual maturity is to know you have the right enemies. Many of you are headed into the world to do things you have always dreamed of doing. Before you start, you would do well to classify your adversaries. Who will be the major opponent to reaching your goals? More than likely, it will be yourself. You will more likely be hampered by the horizons of your own imagination than outside forces.
Obadiah predicts the victory of Zion.
“On Mount Zion there shall be deliverance” (
Obadiah reminds us that judgment and victory are in God’s hands.
Listen to his triumphant finale: “And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”
As you go forth from here, there will be some days when you will feel as though there is no hope. Headlines will trumpet the glory of things you know are wrong. 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 always good. None of which is what I want to focus on just now. My text is
The smoldering animosity between the Israelites (the children of Jacob) and the Edomites (Esau’s progeny) bellowed into a blaze when Edom aided Jerusalem’s enemy by simply standing aside and watching: “In the day that you stood on the other side … (when) strangers … cast lots for Jerusalem … you were as one of them.” Neither history, nor Jacob’s historic behavior, would excuse Edom from the sin of indifference.
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 policemen 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 20 years. I understand ‘conscious but inert’ better than you might imagine!”
The page one headline in the New York Times on May 9, 1994, screamed, “Casinos Big Players in Welfare Overhaul!” The report detailed how in state after state casino operators were coming to the rescue of education and welfare programs. Needless to say, these casino operators were also demanding a voice on the future direction of those programs. That is the way our society works. But, what a profane indictment that headline was of a church whose Master declares:
I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in … naked and you clothed me … sick and you visited me … in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you … thirsty and give you drink … a stranger and take you in … naked and clothed you?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (paraphrase of
A headline like that is a judgment on a conscious but inert church. It says to lethargic Christians that for too long we have watched from the other side.
The scholar who probably did more to inspire the Protestant Reformation than any other was Erasmus of Rotterdam. It was his writings, more than anything else, that 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 Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox. But when the issues over which the Reformation was to happen came to a head, Erasmus suddenly and strangely 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!”
There is no place in the back seats for you. You cannot win this battle from the sidelines. No war is won only by sitting watching. God is calling you to act in splendid fashion as Christ would do.
President Abraham Lincoln was given to bouts of depression. Sometimes in doldrums he would walk from the White House to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church to speak with the pastor, Dr. Gurley. Once, Lincoln and an aide slipped in quietly to hear the mid-week message. Afterwards, they returned along Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House.
The aide probed, “Did you like that sermon, Mr. President?” Lincoln answered, “No! It was a failure of a sermon, if I ever heard one.”
To this the President’s aide asked, “Why would you say that, Sir?”
“Because,” President Lincoln replied, “Dr. Gurley did not stir us to rise up and do a great thing!”
Tomorrow you are going to graduate from college. Not many people in our world have that privilege. Some of you may graduate Summa cum laude. Others may graduate Magna cum laude. Others, Cum laude. And some of you are graduating “Laude, how come?” But however you graduate, don’t ever forget that God, by means of the education you have received, has equipped and is calling your heart, head, hands, and future to do something great for Him. “Where?” someone asks. And the answer is, “Where you are needed most!”
We live in a society where young Americans die in gangs every day and we must stop them. For if we don’t, who will in Christ’s name? Homeless people need a place to stay and we must house them. For if we don’t, who will in the name of Christ? Lonely people need friends. We must embrace them. If we don’t, who in the name of Christ will? Sinners everywhere need to hear the clarion call of the cross. If you do not sound it, who will for Christ’s sake? Certainly not the casino operators!
You and I cannot afford to stand by watching the moral disintegration of this society where God has placed us to love and serve Him. We must rise up in the name of Christ and seize the day for Him. For “In the day that (we stand) on the other side … (We will be like the rest of them).”
You have worked hard to reach this magnificent milepost. All of us are here because we are thrilled for your accomplishment. Congratulations! God be with you. Go now into a world that needs you. Aim high! Stand tall! Stay faithful! And make a difference for Christ’s sake!