- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2001

Here are excerpts from a sermon preached yesterday by the Rev. Lee P. Washington of Reid Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lanham.

Zephaniah was a prophet who came to prominence during the reign of Josiah. Josiah was an 8-year-old king who found himself sitting at the center of power after his predecessor had allowed Israel to be caught up in idolatry and false worship.
Josiah found himself in the midst of a people who had abandoned their God Because of their disobedience, God said to them, 'I am going to allow Assyria and Babylon to take you into oppression. I'm going to let them take you from the Holy Place and carry you off into a strange land. There you shall be held in captivity.' It was Josiah who stands up and says, 'I'm not going to allow the enemy to destroy us. I'm not going to assist the enemy. I'm not going to work in concert with the enemy.'
Can I help you to understand that most of the enemy's power is because we help him? Josiah said, 'I'm not just going to sit still and let the enemy come in and dominate and take our values away and destroy our families. I'm not going to sit idle and help the enemy. I'm not going to become like a John Walker, the al Qaeda fighter from America who switched sides and helped the enemy
Josiah said, 'I'm going to do one thing that the enemy can't take from me and that is I'm going to worship God in the midst of oppression. One thing the enemy can't stop me from doing is worshipping. I may not like what's happening to me, but I still have a right to give God all of my praise'
So Josiah said to the people, 'We're not going to sit idle. We're going to begin a revival, we're going to praise God, we're going to worship God. We're going to let the enemy know he may have us surrounded but we have not surrendered We are going to let the enemy know that greater is He that is inside of us than he that is in the world.'
And when he started that, God called Zephaniah, the prophet, and told him, 'I want you to prophesy to Israel and this is what I want you to tell them: It is time to sing and it's time to shout.'
Can you imagine how the people felt? Here they are, in oppression, here they are having to conform to the rules of the person keeping them in captivity, and here comes Zephaniah with his contradictory message. Zephaniah is saying it's time to sing and shout and the people are looking at Zephaniah like he's lost his mind.
'You're talking singing and shouting, are you not understanding that we are not in Jerusalem? That we are down here in Babylon and you are talking about singing and shouting?' They looked at him like he was crazy.
Ah, but some of you are looking at me talking about singing and shouting. 'Don't you know the unemployment rate is at an all-time high? What in the world is wrong with him? He's talking about singing and shouting and I'm unemployed Does he not understand that my body is not feeling well? They're talking about lowering the interest rate but that don't make no difference if you ain't got no money He does not understand what I've had to deal with, he does not understand how rough it's been this year and you talk about singing and shouting?'
Yes, I'm talking about singing and shouting because irrespective of what you've had to go through, there are some things in the text that will make you sing and shout, that transcend your particular situation. The Bible says Zephaniah says you can sing and shout because the Lord has taken away your judgment
Forgiveness always follows judgment. And celebration follows forgiveness. So if you are wondering why there is so much joy in here, it's because we understand we've been forgiven, and people who have been forgiven always celebrate.
Next week: A sermon by the Rev. Bill Powers of Forcey Memorial Church in Silver Spring.

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