This sermon is part of the sermon series "Earthy Spirituality". See series.
This sermon is part of the sermon series "Earthy Spirituality". See series.
I once read an article in the New York Times entitled "How the Worm Turns." The article focused on a group of scientists who spend their entire lives studying, identifying, and tracking earthworms. They're called oligochaetologists. Dr. Sam James, an oligochaetologist and researcher at the University of Kansas, has named 80 new earthworm species in the last 20 years. While on a trip to Brazil, he found a pinkish-gray worm that was thought to be extinct.
As I read the article, I remembered that in sixth grade I wanted to grow up and become an entomologist, giving my life to the study of insects. When I read about oligochaetologists, I thought, Thank you, God, that I have a good job. I get to be a pastor, and I don't have to spend my life studying earthworms. But when I studied 2 Chronicles 26:1-18, I realized that my attitude was wrong. Many of us—including me—have embraced the idea that God is only pleased with what we might call "religious activities." We assume that there is a chasm between two realities: the sacred and the secular. Unfortunately, that means that a huge chunk of our lives has been severed from God's good plan for us.
The average North American will spend about 88,000 hours—or 40 percent of their total time on this earth—working at a particular job. Then there is all the time spent doing non-work related duties every week: driving your car, changing a diaper, fixing a meal, helping a child with homework, studying for an exam, investigating proteins and amino acids, planting flowers, or standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. According to the typical split we create between the sacred and the secular, 88,000+ hours of lives don't matter to God. With such a split, we are cut off from the glory of God's deep, joy-filled purpose for our lives.
Here's the good news: according to the Bible, God didn't invent the sacred/secular split; we did. The Bible talks only of a sin/righteousness split or a pride/humility split. According to the biblical story, your whole life matters to God. Life is charged with glory, purpose, and goodness and designed to be a joy-filled offering to serve God and love your neighbor. This is exactly what we find in the story of King Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26. This ancient story denies the sacred/secular split and points us to a good God who wants us to enjoy all of life. It also contains a warning about a sin/righteousness split.
Uzziah lived on the right side of the sin/righteousness and pride/humility splits.
The story of 2 Chronicles 26:1-18 is grounded in real events and real history. Its timeframe begins 790 years before the birth of Jesus. Uzziah, the 16-year-old son of Amaziah and Jecoliah, has been crowned king of Judah. Verses 4 and 5 tell us that Uzziah was on the right side of the sin/righteousness split: "He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord … He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success."
Twice the text mentions that Uzziah sought the Lord. This served as the framework for everything he did. Whether he was rebuilding a city, meeting for Bible study with his mentor, digging cisterns to supply the country with fresh water, organizing the army, or making new inventions for national defense, Uzziah's actions flowed out of a basic posture of seeking the Lord.
Uzziah also met with a spiritual mentor named Zechariah. There are over 30 people named Zechariah in the Bible, so we don't know much about who this is. We do know that he was a spiritual mentor for Uzziah, offering a vision of God and teaching the king to love and respect Him. Here we see that Uzziah clearly stands on the right side of the proud/humble split. He's the king; he can do whatever he wants, and he doesn't need a mentor. He commands and controls everyone in the kingdom. But Uzziah willingly chooses to submit himself to the instruction and authority of Zechariah.
When it comes to our spiritual life, we all need someone to encourage us and—if necessary—to get in our face and confront us. No one is above this reality, so I ask you: Who is your Zechariah? Who is giving you a vision for God? Who challenges you?
Regardless of Uzziah's commitment to growing in the Lord and being mentored by Zechariah, we don't find a record of Uzziah's spiritual activities in this text. Instead, we have a list of accomplishments from his business and political duties. Verse 2 says that Uzziah rebuilt Elath. The city of Elath is now known as Eilat, a resort city on the shores of the Red Sea. Archeological digs at this site show that it was an industrial center marked by the mining of copper and iron. It was also an important shipping center that connected Judah and the rest of the world. Uzziah had wrested it from the hands of the Edomites and rebuilt it to provide a strategic gateway for trade.
Is rebuilding a city a God-honoring activity? Absolutely! I have some friends who live near Detroit in order to bring renewal and hope to this proud but troubled city. Many people have fled the city, but these people are moving in to renew the city's historic beauty. Investors are rebuilding sections of downtown Detroit with beautiful condos, restaurants, and museums. Is this a spiritual activity? Does it matter to God? Yes! God cares about rebuilding cities—people live in cities and God loves people. I hope that followers of Jesus are moving into the city of Detroit as an act of worship, because our whole live matters to God.
What else did Uzziah accomplish that mattered to God? He defended his country. Second Chronicles 26:6 tells us that Uzziah "went to war against the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod. He then rebuilt towns near Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines." Talk of war makes us uncomfortable. I can't tell you that every single war is a just and good war. I also can't tell you that there is only one way for a a Christian to view the second war in Iraq. On the other hand, I've talked for countless hours with veterans of World War II, and I'm convinced that they helped save the world. It's an honor to defend a country, to fight for freedom, and to protect those who are weak and vulnerable. Everything worthwhile in life—freedom, a country, a family, a marriage—has to be fought for from time to time. Does such fighting matter to God, charged with his glory and good purpose? Yes! Your whole life matters to God.
Second Chronicles 26:9-10 goes on to say that "Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate, at the Valley Gate and at the angle of the wall, and he fortified them. 10 He also built towers in the desert and dug many cisterns, because he had much livestock in the foothills and in the plain." Our text continues to show things that aren't often counted as Uzziah's spiritual successes. Here the author refers to Uzziah's work as a civil engineer. The people living in a desert climate received water because King Uzziah built towers in the desert and collected water in cisterns. Does it matter to God? Was it a high and holy calling to serve the kingdom as a civil engineer who provided a system to collect and store clean water? Absolutely! Collecting water matters to God.
At the end of verse 10, there's a wonderful phrase about Uzziah: "he loved the soil." It doesn't say he loved it because it provided the necessary nutrients to grow crops. A straightforward reading of the text gives us the sense that he loved soil because he just loved it! Soil was fun, challenging, interesting for its own sake. It's like someone who likes fishing, needlepoint, soccer, composing a jazz piece, or making a soufflé it's just fun to that person.
What do you have that's like soil? What is that thing in your life that's just good for its own sake? Do you enjoy art, writing, cooking, biking, running, fishing, decorating, playing the guitar, or watching soccer? A little while ago, I realized that I've spent the last 20 years dutifully doing my job, but I don't have anything that's good for its own sake; I don't have my "soil." So I've decided to start saving money for a Harley or a motorcycle that closely resembles one. Did you ever realize that our God is that good? Even our hobbies matter to God. They reflect something of the glory, goodness, and joy of the Lord.
Second Chronicles 26:11-14 shows the accomplishments of a few people who served under the leadership of Uzziah. Each had amazing organizational and administrative skills. They organized the 307,500 soldiers under the 2,600 leaders. They distributed the shields, spears, and helmets among the soldiers. Does God care about good administration, record keeping, and organization? Yes! Every time you use your administrative skills to balance your budget, plan your family's vacation, or start a new company, you are serving God and serving your neighbor in a way that pleases God.
Finally, 2 Chronicles 26:15 mentions catapults of some kind. The Israeli general and scholar Yigael Yadin contends that these devices refer to special structures that were added to towers. We have archeological evidence of similar structures in the eighth century Judean city of Lachish. The structures mentioned in verse 15 were most likely wooden frames into which round shields were inserted. These huge shields formed a protective barrier so archers and stone-throwers could safely stand instead of crouching awkwardly. The important thing to note is that Uzziah invented these devices. God didn't just want Uzziah doing religious duties; God encouraged and blessed Uzziah's use of imagination and ingenuity to develop a brand new invention.
Do you have a creative streak within you? Your creativity matters to God. Maybe you'll find a new drug for cancer. Maybe you will invent new devices, try new ways of doing things at work, or create new works of art or music. Does this matter to God? Yes! God cares about beauty, excellence, and creativity.
Live on the right side of the real "splits" in life
God doesn't have a line dividing the sacred and the secular. Everything can be an offering to him if you seek God in it. But notice that a very clear line is drawn in this passage between sin and righteousness and pride and humility. Uzziah was on the right side of those lines for most of his life, but you can see a storm coming in this story. Verses 8, 15, and 16 tell us that Uzziah grew in power and success in many areas, including urban renewal, national defense, civil engineering, new inventions, and even hobbies.
Have you become powerful? Do people view you as a successful person? Have you experienced success in your business or your studies? That's a good thing! But the critical question is this: What will you do with your success? Are you on the right side of the pride/humility line? If you're on the wrong side, you're life is in big trouble.
When Uzziah was probably around 50 years old, he had experienced great fame and success. But 2 Chronicles 26:16 tells us that "after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the LORD his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense." As we would say, power and success went to Uzziah's head.
Like any good Jew of his day, Uzziah knew the boundaries of his power and authority. He was not to enter the temple and do the work of the priests. God had told the Levites to take care of worship. Theirs was a God-given job. Uzziah clearly overstepped his boundaries. Remember how Uzziah had asked Zechariah to train him in the fear of the Lord? Uzziah now has no one to confront him. He is not open to correction, listening to no one. In a word, he's arrogant. He's given a chance to repent, ignores it, and his downfall begins.
God always offers us a chance to repent—to change our minds and grow deeper with God. He always extends his hand to us and says, "I know you've messed up and wandered from the path, but here's my hand. Take it, and I'll get you back on the right track." People may not always do that for you, cutting you off and casting you out. But God doesn't do that. Even when Jesus was dying on the cross, he looked at the very ones who were crucifying him and cried out, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." Uzziah is offered God's grace and he refuses it in 2 Chronicles 26:19.
Which side are you on in the sin/righteousness or pride/humility split? Where do you stand? Is your heart proud and arrogant? Jesus died not only to forgive your sins, but to recreate the world. Most of us who grew up in the church or some kind of religious system learned that Jesus died so that we could have our sins forgiven and go to heaven. That is wonderfully true, but Jesus also lived, died, and lives again as Lord so that he can recreate the world and you. When you trust in Jesus as your Savior—when you humble yourself before him and ask for his forgiveness and grace—you become a new creation. Jesus died so that your whole life can become right with God and be an offering unto him.
In Christ, every legitimate vocation is equally acceptable to God. There is no sacred/secular split. My friend Willis Finifrock used to attend every Sunday morning service with grease and oil on his hands because he stayed up half the night fixing furnaces. Is that a high and holy calling? Yes! Who else will fix your furnace on a cold night? Every time I saw Willis with those grease-streaked hands, I felt like I was standing on holy ground.
My friend Bob is a biochemistry professor at Stony Brook University. He's a world-renowned expert on complex carbohydrates. One afternoon I sat in his college classroom and listened to Bob lecture biochemistry students. As I listened to Bob describe the amazing interactions between amino acids, lipids, and proteins, I thought, This is astounding! Someone has to tell other people about this. Someone needs to declare the miracle of life, shouting it to the world! Then I realized that's why Bob is at Stony Brook University.
All of life is an act of worship and an opportunity to serve and please God. Your whole life—your waking, sleeping, eating, playing, making music, hitting a softball, making soup, discovering earthworms, worshiping, and serving—matters to the God of the universe. Go out and worship him with your whole heart, doing everything for the glory of our amazing, glorious God!
Matt Woodley is the pastor of compassion ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.