April 29 Sermon: ‘The Fear of the Lord’
By Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, North Katanga Area
Dear brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ,
I will open today’s sermon with a French saying: "La langue c’est le pouvoir." That is, "Language is power."
I am wondering in what language am I to address you. Some are certainly willing to hear the Queen’s English, with some Texan or Spanish accent. But my English will be Ntambo’s English with Ntambo’s accent.
You know, when I was struggling with speaking English, a friend of mine from Ethiopia gave me some comfort by confiding to me that "The English language was born in England; it grew up in America; it got sick in India and inevitably died in Africa." This means that I will speak to you in English made in Africa.
Sometimes, Americans are very kind with me. One day I entered one of your thousand restaurants. A waitress came to me and asked me a funny question. What she said was, "What kind of dressing do you want on your salad?" It was a scary question to me because so far what I knew about dressing, it was dressing my son or daughter. I never learned how to dress salad. So English is still difficult.
To come to the point of the day, I would first like to thank the General Conference; for through your prayers and support, peace is in process now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is my home country, in Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and most of the African countries which have been engaged in war.
I want to thank the General Conference for the event of Africa University. As chancellor of Africa University, I would like to confirm that the dream is alive. With this accomplishment, let me quote for us 2 Corinthians 8:11, which reads as follows: "Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means."
I am thankful to the Council of Bishops for the bishops’ initiative "Hope for the Children of Africa." We have a saying in Africa that "you can steal everything from me but you cannot steal my education." Education is so meaningful to our people that the bishops’ initiative program has a meaningful impact in the future and development of African nations.
We are thankful to all the agencies of the church for their continued support to the churches of Africa. These kinds of actions can be translated about the church as being a church which cares with love and compassion to build a broken world. It is a church which brings unity among the nations, to say a church which follows the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our pains were your pains, our joy was your joy and our vision as Africans was your vision.
The most important thing that this church has done to me was to lead me to know Christ as my personal Lord and savior from the pagan family I was in.
One woman from Russia was asked, "What does the United Methodist Church mean to you?" Her reply was, "This is the church which led me to know Jesus Christ." Let me tell you the United Methodist Church is a church which has served as a cornerstone in the lives of people, bringing them to Christ: Yes for fear of God.
To come to our passage of Psalm 111:10 we proclaim: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise." Our target point is fear. Of course, there is fear and fear.
The fear I am alluding to is not the fear like the one I felt when I was asked to take place in a solo flight. It is not the fear of war or instability. It is not the fear to go to the jungle. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said: ‘There is no bad thing than the fear of fear." It is not this fear that I am speaking about. The fear that makes the appeal of my sermon is the fear like the one of David: the fear of God.
"He said to his men, ‘The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.’" (1 Samuel 24:6)
A second illustration of David’s fear of God reads:
"So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him. Abishai said to David, ‘Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice.’ But David said to Abishai, ‘Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives, he said, ‘the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.’" (1 Samuel 26:7-11)
David feared the Lord; that is why he spared the life of Saul. He had all the power to kill Saul, but for fear of the Lord, he did not. David had his army; he has even King Saul’s spear and water jar. He has all the rights to kill King Saul, but for fear of the Lord, he did not do it.
The fear of the Lord to you and to me is to please God and not God to please us.
When we live in infidelity, there is no fear of the Lord;
When we hate others or practice tribalism, by killing one another, we are not in the fear of the Lord;
When we live in hypocrisy, we are not in the fear of the Lord.
When we miss to accomplish our responsibility and duty toward our children, we are not in the fear of the Lord;
When the church has not accomplished its mission toward the people of the world, we are not in fear of the Lord.
When the church fails to identify the sin as seen to the church members, it does not live in the fear of the Lord;
When the church or the nations fails to identify and meet the needs of the hungry people and the disinherited, and when the nations have the means to finish poverty and hunger but do not act accordingly, there is not fear of the Lord. We can illustrate with Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he says that: "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished … The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
The Lord requires us to say "no" to sin.
I like eating spicy and hot food. It turns in the end by giving me stomachache. When I tell my wife about it, she keeps reminding me that I should learn to say "no" to spicy food. That is true. The church should learn to say "no."
My conversion is worth mentioning. I am coming from a pagan family. My grandfather was a witch doctor. We were worshiping idols. I said no to the practice and gave my life to Christ. It is a duty of the church to say "no" to oppression, racism, injustice and so forth.
This is a generation well-equipped to win the people to Christ for example in communication, evangelism can be done from drum in the African village up to the CNN; new books are getting printed daily; yet we still have people who have not heard the message of Christ. Thousands of ministers do not have Bibles to preach the word of God. We have lists of missionaries waiting; the General Board of Global Ministries’ hands are tied because the church is claiming not to have money to hire the missionaries to do the work of the Lord.
We have local churches which are losing members day after day, but we have no one to make efforts to bring them back. This is not the fear of the lord. Of course, God is love, grace, compassion and forgiveness, but God is also a judge, and the judgment is ahead of us for you and me.
I cannot end my sermon without illustrating with Martin Luther King [Jr.]’s words of devotion to God. Let us quote Luther King: "And I leave the word to you this morning. If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Every now and then, I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize; it isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards; that’s not important. Tell him not to mention where I went to school.
"I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that day, that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try, in my life, to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
"Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say … If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a word or song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain. If I can do my duty as a Christian ought, if I can bring salvation to a world once wrought, if I can spread the message as the master taught, then my living will not be in vain.
"Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right side or your left side, not for any self reason. I want to be on your right or your best side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition, but I just want to be there in love and justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world."
This church has to engage day and night in the prospective of the fear of the Lord. The day we will meet the Lord we will be given the crown of victory.
As a church, let us stand all of us and proclaim: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."