Posts Tagged ‘questioning God’

What Did You Do 7-23-17

In this sermon, based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, I explore the parable of the wheat and the weeds. We find that there is good and bad all mixed up together in this life, as well as within us as individuals. It is not our job to remove it, but simply to live our lives. We trust, even in the midst of questions, that God will act.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-did-you-do-7-23-17

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

There comes a time in the life of every young person, somewhere within the transitional years between childhood and adulthood, when they come face to face with an often times painful reality. If you cause a problem, then you’re responsible to help rectify it.

I myself learned this lesson at about age 12, and it had to do with apples and broken windows in an abandoned farm house, but I’m not going to go into that today…rather I’d like to share the story that my dad told me of when he was just a couple years older…and he learned this same lesson first hand.

Now what you need to know about my dad, is that he’s the second of six kids, and his older brother Jim is about 3 years older. And shortly before this story takes place, my grandfather, their dad, had some pretty major reconstructive surgery on a bad hip…and so grandpa was pretty well laid up for most of this particular year…and so the bulk of the farming fell on Jim at about 17, and dad at 14.

No it goes without saying that in those days, probably far more so than now adays, the kids started in on the farm work pretty young, and so my uncle Jim had a pretty decent handle on how things needed to happen, even though he was still a high school student…and one morning, he’d mentioned to dad that the young corn shoots out in the field were due to be cultivated.

I’m pretty sure Jim was just mentioning that in passing, because at that point, Dad hadn’t tried cultivating yet…but as with any young whippersnapper…he was pretty sure he could pull it off…so dad got home from school, while Jim was still at football practice…and my 14 year old father hopped up on the tractor and started cultivating…and he’d made several passes back and forth across the field before Jim got home.

Now here’s the thing…dad was ever so slightly off in his placement over the rows…and while he didn’t uproot the corn…he was somehow managing to cover it up with soil…and you can imagine just how happy big brother was when he saw what dad was up to.

Dad saw his brother storming out towards the tractor…all red in the face…and while my uncle’s exact words are not very appropriate for me to repeat today…it can be best summed up “WHAT DID YOU DO?” (pause) Now dad learned that hard lesson of responsibility to clean up your mistakes by spending the next couple of hours uncovering each corn plant by hand, while Jim finished up the cultivating. (pause)
Now the idea of farming shouldn’t come as a great shock today as we consider yet another parable of Jesus…this time, the parable of the weeds in the wheat.

We hear of the master of the house going on to sow his field…and while the idea of sowing a wheat field might seem a little foreign to those of us who are used to seeing row upon row of corn or soybeans out in the field…its not that difficult to figure out…wheat is a grain, actually its in the grass family…and a wheat field is seeded just like a lawn…you just scatter the seeds out over the surface…and it all grows up like a carpet.

But as we hear…once the master has done the work of sowing the wheat seed…an enemy comes along in the night and plants weeds…actually something called tares in the original language…a plant that starts off its life looking an awful lot like the wheat that its in the midst of…and its only when both plants produce their seed later before harvest that you can actually tell the difference between the two.

The tares grow right up with the wheat…and since the individual plants…the individual stalks are grouped so closely together, the root system is all tangled up together…doesn’t matter if it’s a good plant or a bad plant…its all mixed up. (pause)

So that being said, in our parable today, once the plants have all sprouted…the wheat and the tares…some of the master’s sharp eyed servants do spot the problem…and they find themselves utterly confused…there’s tares in the wheat…how’d that happen…how’d that lousy seed get mixed in with the wheat…and then they think back to who sowed the field in the first place…the master…and they come to the obvious conclusion…He did this.

And so they march themselves into the house….Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? (pause) They might as well have been asking “What were you thinking?” or “What did you do?” or maybe “Why did you do this?” (pause)

Now I’m gonna stop right there…because I think that this is a pretty common theme…a pretty common question that comes up in the midst of our lives isn’t it? Stop and think about it for a moment. And place yourself in the position of the servants. Somethings going wrong, I think its instinct to blame the highest authority that we can isn’t it? (pause) We do that don’t we? And I’m pretty sure that its isn’t limited to some screw up out in the field is it? (pause)

Earlier this week, I found myself in that position…and it might seem a little odd, but its true. Thursday news broke of the death of a musician about my age…the lead singer of a band that I’ve listened to since my early college days…and it really threw me for a loop…and then a little later on the information came out that it was death by suicide.

And with that in mind I started asking a lot of the same old questions…questions of why and how…and yes I’ll admit it, even the question of Big Guns Upstairs of “why’d you do this? Why didn’t you step in? Why didn’t you stop this somehow?” (pause)

Those are the types of questions that tend to come out in conversation in and around tragic events…and here in our little community we’ve had more than enough events in the past few years that fall in this category…and I’ve heard those same questions from many of you…and while it is important that we recognize the truth that God did not cause these different tragedies to occur, I think it is perfectly acceptable, good even, to cast those questions and emotions and anger and sadness towards God, because God can take it…and if different parst of the Bible like Lamentations and quite a few of the Psalms teach us anything, its that blasting God with these raw emotions of grief is nothing new. (pause)
But at the same time…we also need to recognize that the parable doesn’t stop at that point does it? The servants of the master come at him with questions about the work that he had done, and the master points out the truth…an enemy has done this. (pause) An enemy.

Whether we recognize it or not…there are forces at work in our world that go far beyond our ability to comprehend or see or recognize…and those forces are at work in opposition of the work that God is up to in our reality. God has sown good seed in the field…so these enemies come along stirring up trouble.

Now we can call these enemies a lot of different things…Jesus calls it the devil at one point…but it seems that the powers of darkness and sin and death also fall under that category…they are present in our reality whether we chose to recognize them or not…these powers are here with us…entwined within us…rooted among us.

And perhaps upon recognizing this our reaction is the same as the servants…should we go pull them out? Should we remove that which is evil…that which is bad? (pause) But the master says no…the master tell us to leave it alone…and I think for a couple of different reasons.

Keep in mind…wheat and tares…hard to tell apart…so maybe when Jesus tells us no, he’s posing the question “are you able to judge what good and what’s bad? That’s not your place.”

But secondly…its all mixed up together…and so if you try to remove that which is bad…that which is evil…that which is toxic…you’re going to pull up a bunch of the good shoots as well. (pause) Now admittedly, when I’m in my garden pulling weeds, I don’t bat an eyelash if one of the good plants gets uprooted in the process.  But God?  God won’t risk so much as a single solitary life of that which he has called good…not one.

Why did you do this? (Pause) A common question that we throw God’s direction when this stuff happens…and yet today, perhaps we are receiving a very gentle rebuke as we are reminded that it is not the master who has done this…but at the same time, we are also assured that in the end, the separation of that which God has called good and that which is bad will occur…but its not our job to make it happen…we’re not called to clean the field…we’re called to live in it…or maybe, just maybe, to recognize that we ourselves…ARE…the field.

We profess ourselves to be simultaneously saints and sinners…both at the same time…not 50/50, but 100/100. Fully forgiven and justified saint, and fully twisted and broken and sinful and rebellious…we are both the wheat and the weed…and so maybe just maybe, when Jesus tells us that in the end, that which is considered bad…that which is broken within us will be bound and burned away with fire, leaving behind that which is good and valued and loved by God…and I don’t know exactly how that’s gonna work…but I do remember John the Baptist saying something about Jesus baptizing us with fire…maybe this was what he was talking about.

Now if that’s the case…that’s good news, but its sure not safe news is it? It sounds invasive…harsh…painful even…in short…it sounds a lot like life…and life’s not safe is it? But that doesn’t mean it’s not good.

And so, if you find yourself in a period of life that doesn’t make any sense…when you are asking those big question of Why God, don’t beat yourself up…because sometimes life deals us some pretty lousy cards, and it’s a choice between lousy and lousier…and its in our nature to question it…to react to it…maybe even get mad about it…so we own that…and then we find some grace in it…because the good news tells us that we are not alone it…and throughout all of it…God calls us good.

Amen.

The Light Still Shines 10-27-13

In this sermon, I abandon the lectionary reading and preach from John 1:1-5,9-14. I address the recent school shootings as well as other examples of darkness that is still present here in the world.

Listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-light-still-shines-10-27

You can follow along with the text here. As usual, disregard the odd punctuation and indications to pause.

Before I read the gospel lesson for today, I’d like to say a quick word. I had high hopes for this week’s sermon. I had a lot to choose from. I could have focused on the Reformation and Martin Luther which we are celebrating in worship today…I could have come from the direction of our new members…and how our congregation is changed by their presence. That we are a new creation today…and with their gifts do that much better of a job of representing the body of Christ on earth. (pause)
I could have talked about freedom or enslavement or sin…topics brought up in the assigned Gospel text from John 8 printed on your bulletin…but considering some of the stuff going on in the world lately…that just didn’t seem fitting…that didn’t seem like the message that needed to be spoken today, and so I’m going off topic and I ask that you bear with me.
(read the Gospel lesson…John 1:1-5, 9-14)
I woke up Friday morning and I thought I had a pretty good plan for the day. Hang out with my kids as they were out of school. Do some housework. Take in the Underwood football game, and enjoy the company of some family that we had coming into town…and somewhere along the way, knock out a sermon for this morning.
As I already mentioned, I had a lot of different options for that sermon…a lot of different directions that I could go…but none of them really felt right…and none of them felt applicable, or hopeful…none of them were sitting well with me, and I couldn’t really put my finger on why. (pause)
As the day progressed, some different things happened that started to shed some light on things…although perhaps that’s not the best choice of words…perhaps a better way to say…some different things happened that started to shed some darkness on things. (pause)
Most of you have probably heard by now, that there was another school shooting this week. Last Monday, a 12 year old boy snapped…he pulled a gun and injured two fellow students…then he turned the gun on a beloved teacher and former US marine…killing him…and then he turned the gun on himself. (pause)
2 days later, on the other side of the country…another young man snapped…a 14 year old boy killed yet another teacher, this one a 24 year woman…3 people dead…more injured…and we don’t have to think very hard about other examples violence displayed in schools over the course of recent memory.
Every time we hear about things like this, I think it gives us pause. And we think to ourselves “That’s terrible…I can’t believe it happened again…I can’t imagine what those people are going through…I just hope that never happens here.” And we hug our kids just a little bit tighter for a few days…and we say some prayers for nameless strangers on the opposite side of the country for a few days…but then we sort of go back to normal don’t we? We try to forget the invasion of darkness into the world and pretend that everything’s okay. (pause)
But everything isn’t okay…and its not just school shootings. Darkness takes many forms…and it finds a way to get at us…it finds its way into our lives.  Maybe it’s violence…or maybe it’s a kid getting bullied…something all too common these days…or maybe it’s a foreclosure…or a failed business venture…or maybe it’s a terminal diagnosis…maybe that one sounds familiar to you.
In the last week, one of our members got that news. Cancer…the word that you never want to hear in a doctor’s office…the news that we never really want to admit to…that our days are numbered…or on the other hand that someone you love gets that diagnosis, and you have to sit there and watch them struggle…you have to watch them wither away until their strength gives out and they die. (pause)
We live in a world filled with darkness…we see it every day…we read about it in the paper…and we hear about it on the news. Often times it seems like there’s nothing good happening…nothing good at all…this is our reality.  Its messy, its ugly, it hurts…and we’re all stuck in it…and we all contribute to it…that darkness…it resides in each and every one of us…we might not want to admit it…more often than not we don’t want to cop to it…but like it or not that darkness that fills the world…that darkness that shows its ugly face in violence and disease and death starts right here.
We’re all a part of it, and though for some of us the darkness stops short of pulling a gun and shooting up a school room, we cannot deny the reality that sinfulness runs every bit as deep in our existence as it does in those 2 young men this week…those two young men who were so filled and overcome with darkness that they were able to justify taking lives this week. (pause)
We’re all a part of it…and we’re all stuck in the midst of it and often times when we stop and think about it we ask the question WHY? Why does this keep happening? Why can’t we stop this? What does this all mean…and often times when we ask those questions…the one that we’re directing it at doesn’t come back with much of an answer for us.
Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there violence and death and disease? WHY GOD? (pause) We ask those questions and there are no good answers. And I can stand up here and try to tell you that all this crap that continues to happen in the world is simply a result of the way that sin has twisted our present reality…and while I believe that its true…it seems like pretty sour grapes in the face of all this darkness that keeps coming up again and again this week.
And as much as I might find myself questioning God…arguing with God…crabbing God out for allowing this sort of thing to happen…blaming Him…in the midst of those struggles…I get smacked with the verse “The light shines in the darkness” but I’ll be honest with you…I hear that and I want to call God out on that too…You know what God…there’s too much darkness happening…I can’t see the light!!!
But then I come back to it again…the light shines in the darkness. NO IT DOESN’T…NOT THIS TIME GOD…THIS TIME I’m CALLING YOU ON IT!!!!
The light shines in the darkness…and the darkness…has not overcome it. (pause)  Are you sure about that God because from where I’m sitting…it seems like the darkness has a pretty good hold on things…it seems like the darkness is still holding on pretty tight and I’d say its still pretty well established in the world…its all around us…and its in us…and you know what God…as much as I hate to admit it, when I get honest I see an awful lot of it in me! (pause)
Have you ever had those times…those times when the darkness overwhelms you…and you find yourself arguing with God? They happen…and you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it because you know what…God can take it…he can take your questions…he can take your anger…and in fact…I believe that God encourages us to express it.
Ever read the Psalms…they’re prayers…plain and simple…and while they cover a wide range of emotion, the largest single type of psalm is lament…arguing with God, laying out our troubles and our concerns and our anger with God…and hey…if the Bible is the word of God which Martin Luther swore up one side and down the other that it is…and that the Bible is our soul authority…well then maybe we need to wake up and pay attention…
We face darkness in the world…and we face darkness in ourself…but God’s not immune to it…God hasn’t turned his back on it…quite the opposite…God got into it…and that’s why I changed up the scripture lesson this week….to remind us in the midst of some pretty dark times…that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
That…right there…that’s the incarnation in John’s gospel…that’s the first time Jesus comes on the worldly scene…when the light starts shining because Jesus is the light and try as it might…all that darkness…all the crap…and ugliness…and filth in the world…it can rage all it wants to but the light…its still shining….it is not overcome…and in the end…the darkness loses.
You see…darkness is the absence of light…when light shows up, darkness flees…it has to…try as it might it cannot defeat light…and even though we feel that darkness closing in…IT CAN’T WIN!!!
And despite the darkness, we are able to cling to the hope that in the end, everything is made new…its like going to the end of a scary story…reading the last couple of pages and seeing that the good guy wins…we can go back into the story knowing the ending and its not so scary anymore.
That’s the hope that we have…the hope that despite all this darkness and death…there’s more…we believe it…we proclaim it…and whether we want to admit it or not…it’s done (pause)
And by the grace of God…not by any merit we possess…its done for all of us…despite the darkness that we are surrounded by, and penetrated by…and yes even the darkness that we ourselves possess…we are freed from the powers of sin and death…we are freed from the powers of darkness in this world by the light itself…by God himself…by the one that calls himself I AM!!!
And the truly remarkable part is that gift of life…that gift of the light…its offered to everyone…regardless of who they are…its offered to you…its offered to me…and as much as we might like to forget it…its even offered to those two troubled young men who chose to take lives this week…and while we might find that offensive to hear…God doesn’t really care what we think on the matter…because when we stop and think about there are very likely individuals who are offended by the notion that we have been offered salvation from sin…the gospel…the good news…it is so radical…and goes so far beyond our own understanding.
This notion that God is willing to completely overlook…to completely forget the worst sins that we could possibly imagine…and offer forgiveness to ANYONE…even those who are so filled with darkness that they don’t realize it.
That’s the gospel we proclaim…that’s the hope that we hold on to. That the light shines in the darkness…that the word becomes flesh. (pause) That God enters our darkness…and no matter how much we might want to rage against it…He’s still there…and the darkness…even our darkness…CANNOT…overcome it. Amen.