Sermon preached on Feb. 28th, 2016
I think one of the hardest question for a pastor, or any christian for that matter, is why?
Why did God let this happen? "This" may be the death of a loved one, or "this" could be the struggle of a lingering disease, the total destruction of property by a terrible storm. "This" could also be the random act of some criminal. Yes, I think "why" is the hardest question a Christian could face.
In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus speaks on two situations that bring up this question. The first was concerning the death of some Galileans ordered by Pilate. The other was about a tower in Siloam that collapsed and killed 18 people. So, Jesus asks the people a question, "Did these people suffer more because they are worse sinners"? And each time, the answer is "No". Jesus did not then, or does He now, equate individual sin to suffering. But, He does equate it to a sinful nature, the sinful nature of the world we live in today. He says that because of sin all will perish, so He urges repentance by all people.
Jesus is addressing a problem that is just as important today as it was back then, this view that people have of God, which show Him to be an angry Father that hands out punishment to every disobedient child. And then, the question gets asked time and time again, "Why, what did I do to deserve this"? If this were the way of God, I don't think there would be a person left on this earth.
God is not the angry judge, judging each deed and then giving out punishments of sickness, death, and tragedy as He sees fit. This is not the God that Jesus shares with us in scripture. But, there are people who believe that everything that happens, bad or good, comes directly from God.
On January 23rd, 2015, Sheilia's family, my family suffered a tragic loss. A 17 year old son, nephew, grandchild, cousin, and friend was killed in a tragic skiing accident. As we gathered with family and friends to celebrate his life, I overheard people say things like it is all God's will and we must accept it". Another said "It is all part of God's plan and we must live by it," or "God is testing our faith." I even heard one person say "There is a silver lining in every cloud and we will find out God's reason for this some day." I got so frustrated, and angry. I had to go into the bathroom to calm down. I so badly wanted to stand on a chair in the center of the room and scream out at the top of my lungs "MY GOD DOES NOT PUSH 17YR OLD BOYS INTO TREES !!!!!"
You see, we cannot accuse or blame God for all the brokenness in this world. If God were the author of death, how could He, at the same time, be the Author of Life that we see in the resurrection we celebrate every Sunday, and especially on Easter Sunday? Is God the god of the dead, or is He the God of the living? It doesn't happen both ways.
God is more than the angry judge, God is more than the angry father, dealing out punishments that fit the crime, there is more to our God than this. Look at the story of Moses' call and you will see a God who has compassion and cares for our people. He doesn't want to see His people suffer any longer. He tells Moses, "I have seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmaster, I know their sufferings, and have come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians." Notice God didn't say " I am sorry for causing your people to suffer, and now I want to change that. I will deliver them out of this evil I have caused." No Way, God is not responsible for the suffering the people were encountering. But, what He did do, and what He is still doing today, is delivering people away from their suffering. He did, and still does care for the suffering of the people.
Once or twice a month, Sheilia and I prepare community supper. Well she prepares it, I just do the dishes. When I eat my meal, I try to sit by someone I have never met before. On this one occasion I sat down with this person who was sitting alone.We started talking, and I felt this connection, I knew the dishes were piling up, but I didn't want to break this connection. I ended up telling her my story, and then she blew me away and told me hers. She told me that 10 years ago she lost her husband to cancer in the prime of his life. She said that he was forthright and full of fun, sensitive and compassionate, vital, young, and about to die. It came as a blow, why him, why now? The she said came the fear, anger, and frustration. They prayed together of his dying and some of the fear was destroyed, and there was some measure of confidence and hope about the new worlds each of them would face. 10 years have past now passed she said, and she has journeyed through deep valleys of loneliness and tears. Her sorrow has been great and she feared that it might grow greater. Even so, she continues on with a certain confidence and hope, but she wonders about many things. How can it be that he who is dead continues to minister to her? How can a man's life work be completed and a marriage fulfilled in so few years? How is it that, in the midst of sorrow and heart ache, she found God, not causing, but caring?
She found God, not causing, but caring. Is that not the view of God we see from the cross, a God who cared enough for His people that He died on a cross so that people would live? Our God is a loving, caring, merciful God. He is so consumed by these characteristics that He sent a form of Himself, His Son, Jesus Christ, to die, so we would not be separated from Him any longer. God does everything He can to be caring and loving to His people.
I just can't understand how people see a God of Wrath. They must not be able to see the cross, or see the love, or maybe they can't accept that gift of salvation. They turn God into a God that they have to earn their salvation from, so that they can say they had a hand or some action in their own salvation. Some people even see God as a puppet master, controlling and manipulating as He sees fit. They can't see the freedom in the Gospel of Jesus. They see a God who controls everything good or bad. You see, we have that freedom. We have the freedom to choose, we have the freedom to live our lives the way we choose to live them. And, that choice is what brought the consequences of sin and brokenness into this world.
So then, the question is not "What did I do to deserve this?" As if the puppet master was dealing out the path of our lives. The question should be "How can God help me live with the consequences of the sin that is a part of my life. Instead of placing the blame on God for the brokenness of the world, we should instead turn to Him in prayer, in repentance, in hope, and faithfulness. Instead of building a wall between us and God in time of brokenness, we should be tearing down the wall that separates us from God, so that we can let His caring, and love for us enter into our lives. Instead of blaming God we should drop to our knees and ask God to walk with us, to strengthen us, to build us up, and give us the courage to continue in His Mercy and Grace.
This tragedy I am going to tell you about left this man widowed, childless, and homeless. The fire swept through the entire house and everything was gone. It took some time for the loss to fully sink in, but when it did, it came like a rock. Like Job in the O.T. he could not be comforted. When the shock lifted, anger and resentment took it's place, filling his every waking thought. God had not been fair, He didn't protect his family, He did not come to explain why, and what's next. He was in a wilderness as bad as the Sinai. The greatest temptation was to add to the loss by forfeiting his faith. Why not? He felt justified. No one would blame him, some might even support him. He prayed with anger, daring God to hurt him further, challenging Him to give any reason why he should hold on to the thin string of faith he had left. He prayed angrily, but he prayed.
The pain continued to grow, and the emotions built up inside him until one afternoon it all came out in a scream so forcefully, so loud, that it hurt his throat. No words were spoken, just a loud angry scream, as if to say I've hurt all I can, I have paid my dues for love........Help me....... He said the quiet that came was quieter than any silence he had ever experienced. He felt a peace that had not been there for a long time. Scripture might tell you that angels came down and ministered unto him, satan had been defeated. His health started coming back, and he finally remembered that God was caring for the loved ones he lost. He felt God caring for him, and that God can handle all of that honest anger, his honest emotions, feelings, and denials, running away from the pains and hurts of life. God can handle it, and we must let Him. When we do, then we will come to know how strong His love is for us. God can handle it...... Let Him.....
As Jesus teaches us in the parable at the end of this Gospel lesson, God is a patient and loving God, who wants His children to come to Him. Our response to God when we encounter the brokenness of this world should not be to blame Him, but to come to Him in repentance as He waits for us. God does not want His children to be separated from Him, He will wait, and give many chances to repent, and build that relationship with Him. God is not an angry judge, He is patient, kind, and loving father. He gives His children so many chances to trust in Him and bear that fruit. He helps His children to grow as tall as that fruit tree grew.
Does individual sin equal individual suffering? No..... God does though, through Jesus Chris, equate individual sin to individual forgiveness, because our God, is a God of love and mercy..........Amen