By Lester A. ParkinsonA word for those who feel isolated and outnumbered.
The following is a condensation of a sermon delivered at a local Florida church in the summer of 2004. We leave intact some of the elements of oral delivery.
And he answered, fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16).
The majority that matters. That’s what I want to talk about for the next little while. Democracy is very interesting form of government .The democratic experiment is replete with surprises. The election posters notwithstanding, no one really knows what an electorate will do. I suppose the sterling attribute of democratic government is the fact that it expresses the voice of the people; and in that sense, it has to be the most splendid of all the forms of government. The late Reihold Niebuhr’s epigram puts it well: “Man’s capacity for justices makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”
The democratic ethic recognizes our virtue and our vice, our grandeur and our wretchedness. It’s predicated, as you know, on the notion of majority rule. But you and I know so well that the best person does not always win. And we also know that truth and righteousness are not necessarily encouched in a numerical majority.
God and the Majority
There’s an old adage that’s become canonized in our minds, first appearing in a letter by Alcuin to Charlemagne, former emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, nearly 12 centuries ago: “Vox populi vox Dei” (“The voice of the people is the voice of God.”) You and I know it ain’t necessarily so. Truth is not determined by a popular vote or by majority rule. You see, the electorate is always capable of accepting Barabbas and rejecting Jesus. Christians, perhaps better than all others, ought to understand that right-doing and righteousness have to be determined by a standard that’s beyond the purely human.
Not too long ago I witnessed here in the United States a dramatic shift of political power in which the terms majority and minority became categories for frequent discussion. You remember Jerry Falwell and his supporters who made up “the Moral Majority.” A certain sanctity is often ascribed to majority rule – a feeling that can easily be translated into manifest destiny. But the reality always is this: You can be big and wrong. You can be small and right. You can be big and right. You can be small and wrong. God does not move according to the election returns. He operates on another level and in a different sphere.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” reads the divine dictum, “neither are your ways my ways.” As paradoxical as it might seem to some, more often than not, the truth about God is not to be discovered in the behavior of the minority.
You remember that Jesus talked about two passageways, two thoroughfares—one broad and the other narrow way. And He informed us that the broad way, heavily traveled—the majority route—leads to destruction; while the narrow way, lightly traveled—the minority route—leads to light and life.
But there’s a greater paradox, and it is this: In the kingdom of God—the visible kingdom—the minority is, in fact, the majority. And this my friends, is the majority that matters.
Of this reality saints can be certain. That’s why old Wendell Phillips said, “One on God’s side is a majority.” That’s why John Knox’s words, inscribed on the Reformation monument in Geneva, say, “A man with God is always in the majority.”
In this period of history when mercy and compassion are in such short supply and when the beneficiaries of an evil past would ride roughshod on even the seemingly weak and helpless, it should be declared aloud that horses and chariots and all symbols of human power are not ultimately invincible, nor are they determinative.
Ancient Object Lesson
I you would know the truth concerning the majority that matters, travel back with me to the city of Dothan in the eighth century B.C. It’s the era of Elisha, prophet of the Lord and successor to Elijah. Mighty Syria is determined to subdue little Israel. But the king of Israel is advised by Elisha (whose name means “God is salvation”), who informs him of the location of the Syrian Troops, to the great frustration of the Syrian King. Eventually, the king learns that Elisha is the culprit—it is he who, with prophetic insight, briefs the Israelite king on “whatever you speak in the privacy of your bedroom. So, King,” said his servants, in effect, “your problem is not a traitor problem: what you have is prophet problem”
Spies were sent out, and they found Elisha in Dothan. The king immediately assembled a large army and marched to Dothan. The force, complete with horses and chariots, and traveling under the cover of darkness, surrounded the city of Dothan. A mighty army circles a city in pursuit of one man!
Early the next morning Elisha’s personal servant rises from sleep. He walks out to the cool of the early dawn, shakes the cobwebs from his eyes, and what he sees fills him with terrible fear. His eyes scan the hills about Dothan, and they make 360 degree circuit. Wherever he looks, he sees horses and chariots and the great Syrian host. Completely shaken, outwardly and internally, he rushes to awaken Elisha. With fear and trembling he asks the only question available to him: “Master! What shall we do?” (I paraphrase.) “We’re surrounded. What shall we do? Our capture is inevitable, and our fate uncertain. What shall we do?”
And that, my friends, is always the existential question. People still ask prophets, “What shall we do?” When perverted power holds sway, what shall we do? When conscienceless power suppresses powerless conscience, what shall we do? When mean—spirited people speak with ungodly audacity, what shall we do? African-American slave forebears, with their own special sagacity, sang it out. “What you gonna do when death comes creeping in the room? “What you gonna do when death comes creeping in the room? Oh my Lord, oh my Lord, what shall I do?” When gripped by the terrible twins of helplessness and hopelessness what shall we do? When gossip and tale bearing idly is bantered about our church by evil-spirited people with serpentine tongues, what shall we do?
When these words stumbled out of the servant’s mouth, Elisha the man of God simply stood up in the strength that comes from another quarter, and said calm assurance, “Fear not; we’re in the majority.”
To See Beyond the Physical
Now, you know what this servant is thinking: What’s wrong with Elisha today? Can’t Elisha see what I see? Has this sudden unexpected happening affected his rationality? What’s wrong with his vision? Doesn’t he see those Syrian soldiers, with horses and chariots, all around Dothan? He says, “Fear not: we’re the majority. Majority? You and me? Don’t you see what I see? “Yes,” I imagine Elisha saying to him, “I see what you see. But I also see more than you see! We’re not alone! We’re buttressed. We’ve got a support system. They that are with us are more than they that are with them. We are the majority.”
Then the prophet proceeds to pray. Not a panic prayer. Instead, he prays for his panic-stricken servant: Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see. He has eyesight, but he needs sight beyond sight. He can see the visible; he needs to see the invisible. He sees the temporal; he needs to recognize the eternal. Open his eyes that he may see. He sees defeat and destruction. He sees doubt and disillusionment. Help him to see faith and certainty. He sees the valley of the shadow of death. Lord, help him to see goodness and mercy. Lord, open his eyes that he may see! He sees the king of Syria. Help him to see the King of kings. He sees with the naked eye; help him to see beyond the horizon. Lord, open his eyes that he may see.”
Oh, there is a kind of seeing that transcends eyesight. There is a kind of vision that optometrists cannot measure. There is the kind of perception that comes only by prayer. And when the prophet prays, the Divine Ophthalmologist begins His healing work. He removes scales from the eyes. He takes away the disease of doubt, and He removes the cataract of uncertainty. He gives you a new kind of vision that soothes you doubts and calms your fears—I hope somebody knows what I’m talking about!
When Elisha prayed, God answered. Yes! The Lord answered. The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. He sees the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire. He sees horses from another stable. He sees royal steeds from the stable of His Majesty on high. He sees horses of regal bearing and hears the hoofbeats of eternity. He sees horses and unusual chariots, chariots of fire. And these horses and chariots have a missionary purpose. They are not doing battle with the Syrian hosts. No, they are simply gathered round about Elisha. The young man is seeing clearly now.
My brothers and my sisters, whenever you see clearly, when the Lord opens your eyes, then you begin to understand! Now the young man understands how it is that Elisha can declare without hesitations and without reservation, “Fear not! We’re the majority. They that are with us are more than they that are with them. We are in the majority. The majority that matters!”
I Can See, Thank God!
In a world like this, where evil is so pronounced and where mercy is so rare, I’m glad that I can see. I’m glad that I’ve had an encounter with the second person of the adorable Trinity. I’m glad I have been touched by the hand of Jesus, and when He touched me I came back seeing, I once was blind, but now I see. And what do I see? I see horses and chariots of fire. I see the angel of the Lord encamping round about them that fear Him. I see goodness and mercy following me. Yes, I now can see! I see my cup running over. I see the Lord preparing my table in the very presence of my enemies. I see the Lord making my enemy my footstool. I see God opening the windows of heaven and pouring out blessings. I tell you, my brothers and sisters, I see! I see the rout of the wicked and the triumph of the righteous, for I see a stone, hewn out of the mountain, rolling through the centuries, crushing all earthly kingdoms. Yes, I see a new heaven and a new earth. I see the Son of God walking among the golden candlesticks in the New Jerusalem. I see the Lord of glory descending from heaven with a shout. I see the righteous marching with palm branches of victory in their hands—I see them going up in robes of white on their way to the great coronation.
And because I can see, and because of what I see, I will not fear for the future of the church. For I’m a member of the majority—the majority that matters.
Lester A. Parkinson is the pastor of the Bethel, Florida City, and Key West churches in Florida. Key West is Adventism’s southernmost church in the United States.
Reprinted with permission. This article first appeared in the Adventist Review, NAD Edition, February 2005, p. 22.