St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-28-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 05-28-2017

Do We Need To Know Why?

Acts 1:6-14, 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11, John 17:1-11

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

As a Minister in the service of God and Christ I am often asked, by both believers and nonbelievers, “Why does God allow bad things to happen”.

When the inspiration for the question has something to do with bad human actions like war, murder, rape, oppression and such, my typical response will include an explanation of the fact that humanity has free will. We have the choice to follow God’s ways, which eliminates such problems, or to follow our own ways, which creates such problems.

When the inspiration for the question has something to do with illness and premature death the answer is not as easy to come by and the only response I have is that these things are a part of life as God created it. I don’t have a good explanation as to why it is that way; but it is the way things are.

Sometimes when asked “Why does God allow bad things to happen” I just don’t have the answer.

Another question that I often hear is similar, that being “Why does God cause bad things to happen”. This one infuriates me! Not that the person asked it, but that someone, somewhere in their past, led them to believe that God causes bad things to happen; that everything that happens, good and bad, are directed by God.

Some justify such thinking with scripture, usually Old Testament writings that tell of things like God handing Israel over to her enemies as punishment. But careful study reveals that Israel lost her battles because they didn’t listen to God’s instructions in the first place. If they had, they likely wouldn’t have been drawn into conflict at the beginning and if they still were sucked in, with united effort in God’s name, they wouldn’t lose the fight after it began.

And then there are the New Testament writings that seem to support thoughts of God causing bad things to happen. One such verse is found in today’s Epistle reading from First Peter, the very first verse you heard from it this morning where Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you”.

Many believe, and many will teach that this is a statement about God causing the members of Christ’s Church to suffer as a means of testing them; trying to see if they really believe; checking their willingness to endure. Yes, it does say “…the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you”. But where does it say that God is causing their suffering or that God is doing the testing?!

It doesn’t. And, reading just a little farther we hear the words, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour”. Now think again, who is doing the testing?

Not only is it bad theology to assume, or worse still, to assign, suffering to the will of God, it also takes away from the real message God is giving us; the message of God’s love and grace; the message of comfort and joy.

Throughout the Bible we see that there are two forces at work in the world; Good and evil; God and Satan. Right in the beginning, in the creation story the force of evil, represented by the serpent, tempts Eve into disregarding the force of good, God. Job is tested by Satan, not by God. Even Jesus, after being Baptized, goes into the wilderness to be tempted by Satin! …tempted by Satan, not tested by God.

There are, of course, many more examples. And there are some pieces of text that certainly appear to place the blame of suffering on God; that may be the case sometimes; I don’t profess to have perfect understanding of Scripture nor the ways of God; but, with certainty, I can say that they are few and with equal confidence I can say that they are all accompanied with examples of God’s love and grace.

One such reading can be found in Deuteronomy Chapter 8 vs. 2 “Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments”.

Yes, that very much sounds like God was testing the Israelites, but listen to what immediately follows that line… “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna… The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years”.

So, in these lines, was Moses telling the people that they were tested so God would know if they would keep his commandments; or was he using the history as a lesson; reminding them of why they should keep the commandments of a good God who loves them and provides for them even after the evil of their disobedience?

The argument could go on longer than time allows and would undoubtedly lead us far away from my point which is this. We tend to find what we’re looking for. If we search the scriptures looking to find cases of God allowing bad things to happen to us, or even causing suffering among us, we will find it. Likewise if we look to find God’s loving presence in our lives even in times of suffering, we will find that.

This being obvious, teachers and Preachers who want to control their congregation (or the world for that matter) with fear will land their finger on a verse and explain it in such a way as to raise fear and anxiety in the hearts of the listener. But I would ask those preachers (and you, if you adhere to such interpretation), is this the God of the Old Testament who led His people in spite of their shortcomings? And, as a Christian, do you believe this message inspiring fear and anxiety is what Jesus came to deliver to a world that “God so loved”?

This brings us back to the text at hand.

Of all the Epistles, First Peter is one that many believers will turn to when seeking comfort and reassurance. This is good, that is what Peter intended. Pointing to that one verse that reads “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you…” and making it a case for God causing suffering to test us not only misses the point and assigns blame to the wrong force acting in our lives; it also destroys the intent of the writing, leaving the misinformed with more questions and struggles than with assurance of God’s presence in their lives.

God does not bring pain and suffering into our lives to test our faith; to make us prove ourselves; the force of evil does that. But in such times God is here to help us, to “restore, support, strengthen, and establish us”.

So, I ask you, when bad things are happening in our lives do we even need to know why; should we be searching the scriptures and our minds to find a reason why, or should we be looking to the source of our comfort and the one on whom we can cast our anxiety.

In my own current example, with everything that’s going on in my life, I could ask “Why god, why is my mother losing her mind to dementia, why do I have bad knees, why am I further burdened with cysts against a nerve, and why, on top of all this do I now have Lyme  disease?” Or I could say “Thank you God for being near me, assuring me that you will restore, support, strengthen, and establish me; to you be the power forever and ever. Amen.





1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
4:13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
4:14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.
5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
5:8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
5:9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.
5:10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.
5:11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.


John 17:1-11
17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,
17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.
17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;
17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.
17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.
17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.
17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.


Acts 1:6-14
1:6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
1:7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.
1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
1:9 When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
1:10 While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.
1:11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
1:12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.
1:13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
1:14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.