St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-04-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 11-04-2018

Where Is God In This?

Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44

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

What a pleasure it was to have a few days away last weekend; made extra special to be in a place without electricity and thus without a television or radio to inform me of everything that is happening in the world outside.

Unfortunately, the rest I felt didn’t last any longer than it took me to tune into the news Sunday evening and hear of the senseless shooting of 2 black people at a Kentucky grocery store, another plane crash killing 189 passengers and crew, and yet another shooting, this time in a Pittsburg Synagogue killing 11 and leaving  6 injured.

 With all of this piled on top of the day-to-day disheartening bad news it was almost enough to make me turn around and go right back to where I came from. But… God never told me it would be easy.

Yet, even harder for me to deal personally with the tragedies of the world around me, is helping the others whom I love, deal with their personal struggles in understanding; especially those with a faltering faith or even no faith at all. Sadly, that lack of faith all too often comes from the teaching of the Church itself; not all Churches, of course, but many.

You see, when the Church teaches that everything is under God’s control and that all things happen according to God’s plan at God’s command, then people facing tragedies are asking “Where is God in this”, or “Why did God allow this to happen” or the worst “Why did God make this happen”? (That last one, Usually said in a tone of anger).

To be clear, I do believe that God intervenes in our lives for the good. But I also believe that sometimes, things just happen; not at God’s command nor for God’s withheld intervention, but simply by chance within the intricacies of God’s creation. But I do not believe that destructive storms and floods are an indication of God’s wrath; I do not believe that Davian was born with physical defects that caused an early death because that’s how God wanted it to be; I do not believe that Jerry was swept off a ladder by the hand of God; and I certainly do not believe that God sent a man with guns into the Tree of Life Synagogue to commit murder.

And so, my answer to the question, “Why does God cause horrible things to happen?” is an emphatic “God doesn’t”.  It may not be the consolation sought, but sometimes bad things just happen and other times it is the hand of the evil that lurks within humanity; but it should not, and can not, be blamed on God.

Lazarus died because death is a condition of life, not because God decided it was time for him to die.

 

As I said, I do believe that God intervenes in our lives for the good. Related to that, I also believe God answers prayer! Yet I know of so many times that it seemed that prayers weren’t answered; even times when my own prayers weren’t answered. And oh the explanations I’ve heard; the reasons given…

Like “you’re not praying ‘right’” (meaning I’m not assuming the right posture or using the right words, or too long or too short…). Or, “Your faith isn’t strong enough”. Or “You must have a sin you haven’t confessed” (talk to Job about that one). Or “You must be asking for the wrong thing”. Or “you’re being selfish”. And, the catch-all, “It must not be a part of God’s plan”.

I guess any one of these might be the case in some circumstance, but to lump them all together as a checklist would be to imply that God expects perfection; and, if we accept that, where is grace?

So, in answer to the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?” or, another way of asking it, “Why didn’t God intervene when I asked God to?” I will boldly answer… I don’t know. And I’m sure this is the right answer. Often, it’s not the answer those whom I’m engaged with want to hear when they’re trying to understand; when they’re struggling to make sense of a horrible situation; and, again, it’s not all that consoling, but it is an honest answer and one that leaves the door open for relationship between the divine and the human that will, in time, provide the desired answers and consolation.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

 

God never told me it would be easy. God never told any of us it would be easy to be a follower of Christ. There aren’t always easy answers to our questions. But there is assurance; the assurance of God’s presence in our times of joy and sorrow, in our times of ease and struggle and in our times of rejoicing and mourning!

There is the answer to the other question asked when we’re in distress, “Where is God in this”? This I can answer with both certainty and consolation!

When one reaches out to another with love, God is there. When one gives food to another who is hungry, or drink to one who is thirsty, God is there. When a stranger is welcomed, God is there. When the dead are lifted in prayer, those who mourn are comforted, and those who weep are embraced, God is there. When the unlovable are loved, God is there. When the sick are healed, the vulnerable defended, and the downtrodden lifted up, God is there. When differences are set aside so that people can join as brothers and sisters in search of truth, God is there. When people join hands, regardless of skin color, economic status, nationality, religion, or creed to show support for those who suffer and resistance to evil, God is there. Where two or three are gathered in God’s name, God is there among them. (Matt. 18:20 paraphrased).

 

God is there in troubling times; right by your side; weeping with you and ready to dry your tears; preparing a rich feast for you; destroying the shroud that is over you; swallowing up death; raising you up, unbinding you, and making all things new!

“This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation”.

Amen.

 

Isaiah 25:6-9
25:6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
25:7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
25:8 Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.
25:9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

Psalm 24
24:1 The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;
24:2 for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
24:3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
24:4 Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
24:5 They will receive blessing from the LORD, and vindication from the God of their salvation.
24:6 Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah
24:7 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
24:8 Who is the King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.
24:9 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
24:10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah

Revelation 21:1-6a
21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
21:2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;
21:4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
21:5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
21:6a Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

John 11:32-44
11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.
11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”
11:35 Jesus began to weep
11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”
11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.
11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”
11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!”
11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.”