Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Sermon from July 24, 2005

In the name of the God the Creator, Jesus the Liberator, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer. AMEN.

According to the Gospel for today, the kingdom of Heaven is not what we expect. It should be constantly surprising us. After all, no one expects very much from a tiny seed. And yeast is not all that impressive lying in your hand. But imagine trying to raise some bread dough without it. And no one driving by a pasture full of cows expects to find treasure in it, unless you are looking for fertilizer. The kingdom of Heaven is a surprising place indeed.

We are the precursors of the kingdom of Heaven. When people look at us as God’s representatives here on earth they should be just as surprised about the mysteries of God. Each and everyone one of us carry a responsibility to ourselves, to God, and to those in our lives searching for the truth.

On of the mysteries I struggle with is Paul’s claim that “all things work together for good”. I understand that this is a great sentiment. And difficult as it is sometimes, I actually believe it true. But in the real world, which you and I face, it is sometimes very hard to believe in the moment. What about the difficult issues in life? What about poverty, famine, death, depression, isolation, suicide and child abuse to name just a few. How can I find good from God in those? At times it can cause me to despair.

I do try to remember however that when Paul wrote this he too had faced hardships. He had been imprisoned without cause, had been beaten, and suffered deprivation. And he was well aware that Jesus faced being whipped, beaten, spat upon, nailed to a cross, mocked, pierced, killed, and mourned. Of course in the case of Jesus we have the benefit of seeing all his suffering in light of the resurrection and that certainly puts a different spin on things. But Paul endured all his hardships without respite and yet still wrote those words that I find so troubling.

But when we face the death of a loved one, particularly an unexpected or early death, when we face victims of child abuse and suicide. When we see famine and poverty in the world, it is very hard for me to blithely say that it is working God’s good in the world. That simply does not make sense to me. It seems rather unfair. And even worse, it seems particularly unhelpful to those who are suffering from the pain of grief and loss.

And that I suppose leads us back to the unexpected from God. God truly does work in mysterious ways. Ways that often leave me scratching my head. For those who suffer great loss and pain, they may indeed, at some point in the healing process find good. But the good, which they find, can never erase the pain and the emptiness left by loss. That will always remain. Time does not heal all wounds. Time just hopefully allows us the space to accept our wounds and let us bury them somewhat so that they do not constantly hide on the surface, ready to emerge at any time. And they must find the good for themselves. It is no help for me to tell them good will come out of it.

To me the true surprise of God is the resiliency of the human spirit. I have an Aunt who has lost two sons, one to AIDS and the other to suicide. Both died at tragically young points in their lives. She still grieves for them. But she has found greater faith and trust in God at the same time. Her loss will never, ever disappear. But she has found the strength from God to bear her burdens. Some would painfully and horrifyingly be happy to offer up the observation that her drawing closer to God was the good to come out of her son’s death. But I hardly think she would see it that way. In fact, I imagine she would trade her greater faith and trust in a second to have her children back, and I would not blame her.

God is wonderful and God wants wonderful things for all of us. At the same time we know that bad things sometimes happen to us as well. Being one of God’s children does not mean God places a wall around us to protect us from the world. God wants us in the world to witness to others about the love and care God has for each and every one of us. And that involves risk. That is what it is to be a child of God.

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