Sermon: June 26, 2016 – Learning to Go With the Flow

Learning to Go With the Flow

Text: Luke 18: 15-24 

15 People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. 16 But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 17 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

 

18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’” 21 He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 23 But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!

 

Recently Heidi and I had the chance to get out in the woods for a day and we found ourselves near the little town of Elk River. If you have been there you will be familiar with how beautiful it is and you may be familiar with the Elk Creek Falls trail. This hike, which is a little over 4 miles by the time you complete the loop, takes you past three fairly spectacular waterfalls. The direction that we took had us come by the lower falls overlook first, and it was pretty great. Then we moved on to the middle falls. You have the view this falls from a distance, that is if you are going to stay on the main trail, but the surrounding setting for this waterfall looks like some kind of painting. If you were to imagine the most beautiful setting and artistic waterfall your imagination could produce, I think it would look something like the middle falls of Elk Creek Falls.

Every once in awhile I run across an article somewhere that outlines all the dire predictions about the limited water supply we have here in the west. They talk about the tremendous growth in areas like Arizona and California and the front range of Colorado. According to their calculations, we are using water faster than it is being replaced and we stand the risk of complete depletion of the aquifers that service this part of the country. They say we are running out of water! It is a little hard to believe after seeing the lush green forests around Elk River and the raging falls of Elk Creek Falls, and yet I know there is some truth in what they are reporting.

I understand what they are saying, and for the most part I normally agree that we need to pay attention and take steps now to eliminate that possibility for the future. But I’m always left with a sense of frustration, because I seldom hear the idea that there is the same amount of water that we have always had, and what we suffer from isn’t the amount of water, what we suffer from is a distribution problem. It may seem like a small point, and it may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but this is an important concept for us to that flows through us. We receive it while it is here, and then it moves on and becomes a part of the water cycle all over again.

Another important part of the water debate is always about storage. Some say we need more water storage; and that may be. But what I want you to imagine in your minds is a reservoir that is completely full. There isn’t any more room for any additional water. Obviously, some water would have to be let out of the reservoir to make room for the new, right? I believe that is something like what the text I read a few minutes ago is trying to say as

If we go through our lives completely full all the time, there isn’t room for anything left to enter. We need to find ways to distribute more evenly that which we have, and in so doing, we make room for new things to enter. This is, in part, the function of a community. A community is in charge of distribution.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I wanted to give you some background on the text I have chosen before we relate it to community. There are a couple of interesting things about this particular section of scripture that I believe are important enough that we take a look at them.

The first item of importance is the fact that these two stories, the story of the children and the story of the rich young ruler both appear in all three of the synoptic gospels, that is Matthew, Mark and Luke. They also appear in the same order, in other words, the story of the children first, and then the story of the rich young ruler.

Another interesting point is that very often the second story is referred to as the parable of the rich young ruler, and yet there is not a single gospel that refers to him in that way. If I remember correctly, it is the story in Luke that describes him as a ruler, and the gospel of Matthew calls him young. Of course at the end of the story we are told he had many possessions in all three accounts, so we can make the assumption he was rich. But the terminology of the rich young ruler is really a compilation of all three stories.

OK, I have a few blank stares out there and you are wondering where I’m going with all this and how it relates to our previous discussion about water. Let me try to tie this all together where it makes some sense.

I believe the story of the children is related to the story of the rich young ruler. They have the same basic message. That is one of the reasons why in all three gospels, these two stories appear in the same order and with very similar language. They are a matched set, a pair; and the authors recognized this and kept them as a duo for us to

Remember the statement Jesus makes about children; he says that unless we can receive the kingdom of God like a little child, we will never really experience it. Some will tell you this means we need to have child-like faith, and whatever the question is, we just accept it and go on. Sort of like how children accept the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. But I resist that interpretation. We have minds, we have an intellect and they are gifts from God intended for us to use.

What I do believe to be true about children is the fact that their minds are spacious, they are empty, to a large degree and there is lots of room for new things to enter. Have you ever heard the analogy of a child’s mind being like a sponge that just absorbs everything? I believe that to be pretty accurate. And children are in that state

But when we become adults, we begin to hang on to things, we begin to hang on to ideas and it become more and more difficult for us to entertain a new thought, because we are so full of the old thoughts; and in that way, we need to become like children. This was the problem with the rich young ruler. He was full of his possessions, he was full of his wealth, and he didn’t have any more room in his life for anything else. Obviously, he was searching for something more, obviously he felt like his life was lacking or he would not have sought Jesus out in the first place. As a matter of fact, there are some translations that have the man ask Jesus what he must do to really live, rather than inherit eternal life. Here is a man that is very full in a worldly sense, and yet very empty spiritually.

This is very important. Listen carefully. I believe the spirit of God is very much like our water example. There is lots of Spirit around, but sometimes we suffer from a distribution problem. Remember when I said that we don’t really use up the water as much as it is something that flows through us? We have it for a time, use it, and then we give it up to re-enter the water cycle and be used again. The Spirit of God, the Kingdom of God is the very same. We use it, the Spirit flows through us, and then we give it up to be used again somewhere else in another way. But we have to have room. We have to have some storage capacity left; our sponges cannot be full. Our minds, like the minds of children, must have room for the Spirit to enter. Our lives must have room for the Spirit to

What did Jesus tell the young ruler? He said you lack just one thing; you are too full. Go and sell all your fullness and give away the money to the poor, distribute the wealth, and then you will experience new life. We need to serve, we need to give, we need to distribute, and in so doing we make room for more Spirit to enter. If we clog up our beings with possessions, with unchangeable ideas, with stress, with too many commitments, too many places to be at the same time – there isn’t any way for us to make room for the Spirit to enter. In order for the Spirit of God to really work, it needs to flow into us and out of us. It just passes 

I believe that is one of the functions of the church. It provides the opportunity for people to give so they can receive. It is a distribution mechanism. We have a means by which people can serve and be served. That is community, that is the church and that is what we need to do. Amen.

 

 

Sermon: June 19, 2016 – “Bible Reading 101”

“Bible Reading 101”

Text: 2 Timothy 3:16

All scripture is inspired by God and is[a] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

 

I want to introduce you to a member of our family that a few of you have met, but most of you have not. This is Nugget, and he is a Chihuahua-Dachshund mix and he is now about 12 years old. One of the things we like to do with Nugget is to take a walk through Modie Park. It is close to where we live, sometimes we see some interesting wildlife, we all get some exercise and Nugget seems to really enjoy it.

While we are walking, however, sometimes it gets a little annoying because you never know when Nugget is going to want to stop and sniff something. It seems like any vertical surface, a fence post, a fire hydrant, a tall weed, even a piece of lawn edging that has been clipped by the lawn mower and is now torn and lifted up above the rest of the grass qualifies as a point of interest for Nugget. He will want to at least stop and sniff, and then if it is really interesting, he leaves a little evidence of his visit and then he is ready to move on.

What I find interesting is that it isn’t consistent. Not every tall weed or every sign post is necessarily a candidate. Sometimes he walks by and seems to not even notice. What is really a surprise is that sometimes Nugget has been walking along, pretty much ignoring everything, and you forget that he likes to stop, until he does. When he doesn’t want to move, his impression of a concrete block is pretty good. If you don’t notice and you are walking along at a pretty good pace, it can pull your arm right out of the socket. You wouldn’t think such a little dog could put on the brakes so effectively, but he does and it gets your attention!

Of course this behavior is not unique to Nugget; if you have ever walked a dog of almost any kind, you know what I’m talking about. Dogs like to sniff and check things out as they walk; it is just what they do.

I bring this up for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that I want to make sure everyone understands that this is absolutely normal. A dog is walking along and not everything along the path is compelling, but then there comes a special smell. The dog stops and checks it out. Sniffing carefully they are able to determine who was there last, how long ago and whether they may recognize the scent or not. Sometimes the sniff is so compelling that it warrants a response!

The second reason I bring this up is I think it is a great analogy to how I read the Bible. You see, I can casually stroll through the scriptures and just every once in awhile something will jump out at me that warrants a little further investigation. Sometimes it is so compelling that it even warrants a response, or a sermon! This is what I do.

Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. I have been criticized for only taking the parts of the Bible seriously that I happen to agree with or those parts of the Bible that I find interesting or those parts of the Bible that I think are relevant to life today. When I protest and say that some things in the Bible just are no longer appropriate, one response that comes up quite frequently is the text I read a few minutes ago; All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

Really? All scripture?

It seems to me those who complain about how I read and interpret the Bible, are also choosing their favorite parts, it is just that their favorite parts are different than my favorite parts. And it’s crazy to think we should all have the same favorite parts.

Imagine two dogs walking through Modie Park. Do you think that each dog will stop at exactly the same place every time? Probably not. There will be some agreement; as a matter of fact I have witnessed this. One dog will stop and sniff, perhaps even leave a response, and then the second dog will follow right behind and leave a response of his own. There is always some agreement; but not exact duplication by any means.

The fact that everyone is not in lock step and exact agreement as to what is important or interesting in the Bible is not what bothers me. What bothers me is when a portion of the scripture is seized upon as being the most important thing ever written and it must be upheld, even at great personal cost. The human carnage that is a result of this practice is almost incalculable. If we look to history as a teacher, there are plenty of examples of this practice.

The human carnage of the Inquisition and the Crusades were both based on a scriptural interpretation that allowed a mindset to prevail that it was God’s will that these people who thought differently should die.

The human carnage of the Salem witch trials is the same story.

The human carnage of the Civil War in this country, not that long ago, was in part, based on a scriptural belief that it was within the acceptable parameters of Christianity to own slaves and that those slaves should obey their masters without question.

For centuries women have been excluded and ostracized from the church because someone decided that a portion of scripture was more important than some other part.

If you think we have moved past this practice; think again. In the wake of the Orlando massacre last week, I have heard more than one comment from so-called Christian ministers that expressed a certain level of joy that those killed were mostly gay or lesbian. One minister even quoted Leviticus that stated God’s perfect law demanded that homosexuals be put to death.

When we read the Bible, we absolutely must read carefully. There is not anything wrong with ignoring one part and finding hope or enlightenment in another part. This is normal and I think also healthy-it means you are thinking and analyzing and paying attention. As for our text this morning, I’m sorry, but it simply is not true. All scripture is not appropriate; only some of it is. History has taught us this and it cannot be argued otherwise. The only question that remains is what portion of scripture will some consider being more important than anything else?

I am currently reading a book called “Things I Wish Jesus Said”. The first chapter is titled “Don’t Believe Everything You Read”. The author laments the fact that Jesus didn’t say anything about this problem; the author wishes Jesus had said “don’t believe everything you read”.

Well, I’ve been thinking about that, and actually, I think that Jesus did say that. By my count, in the four Gospels, Jesus is reported to have said something very close to that very thing a total of 14 times. 14 times Jesus repeated these words; “it is written…” “but I say to you…” In other words, Jesus challenged what had been written before, he said “don’t believe everything you read, because it can be misleading, it can be misinterpreted, sometimes it is just wrong.” Then Jesus would offer a new interpretation – things like loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you instead of violence and revenge. Jesus did say “don’t believe everything you read.” And I think it is still good advice.

We must be willing to let go of certain elements of scripture that no longer serve the common good. We have let go of slavery. We have let go women being silent in our churches. We have let go of first born sacrifice and the mixing of two crops in the same field. We have let go of ceremonious cleansing of food and body. We have let go of a prohibition against eating certain meats or wearing two types of fabric. We have let go a lot of things that were once considered central and important and were perhaps relevant in their day. But they are relevant and appropriate no longer.

Picking and choosing what we are interested in and what makes sense for us when we read the Bible is the only logical way to work your way through. To pretend that you are not picking and choosing simply makes a mockery of the rational thought process. All scripture is not suitable for teaching or correction and I’m certain that all scripture is not inspired by God.

And that is food for thought.

Amen.

Sermon: June 12, 2016 – “The Task of Ananias”

“The Task of Ananias”

Text: Acts 9: 1-19

 

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision[a] a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul[b] and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

I have always loved this story because of the many layers of meaning you can draw out of it, there is a superficial literal story, but the metaphor and the depth of what it represents is, at least for me, far richer. Let me see if I can give you a couple of ideas of what I am talking about.

The first thing that jumps out at me is the irony in the story. It seems ironic to me that Paul, or Saul as he was called prior to his conversion, was really blind to who Jesus was and what Jesus stood for. His spiritual and mental blindness then ironically turns into a physical blindness when he meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. This is just one little example of the kinds of ironic metaphor you can find in this story.

Another one of my favorites is the background story of Ananias. You gotta feel for this guy. Did you catch the language around what Ananias said when the Lord told him to go a pray for Saul? Ananias protests a little bit; he said that he has heard about this man and it might be better for him to just stay away. The Lord persists, the Lord tells Ananias that Saul is an instrument whom I have chosen, and he needs to go and pray for him.

Now this is not an enviable position. Saul is well known for the level of persecution of Christians all throughout the region, and Ananias, also a Christian, is asked to go and confront this man of authority and this persecutor of Christians. Yikes.

But this is what I think is interesting. The Lord tells Ananias that Saul is an instrument that can be used, an instrument whom God has chosen. I think there is a lesson here. No person, regardless of how we view them, is lost or diminished in the eyes of God. The Lord can take anyone and make them new and create an instrument of peace from that life. So Ananias obeys and delivers the message to Saul, even though he considers it to be a great personal risk, Ananias answers the call.

I’m going to switch gears now for a minute, because I feel a little like Ananias this morning. I feel a deep and sincere calling to share some observations from our recent trip to Scandinavia, but I also have a few reservations. You see, just like Saul had a reputation that everyone knew about, there are still things that everyone agrees on that are sometimes better off left alone. Ananias did not really want to go and see Saul, but he went anyway, and Paul’s eyes were opened as a result. The scales of blindness fell away. I’m hoping for the same outcome.

What I’m referring to is the long standing tradition that you simply do not mix religion and politics and what I have to say could be interpreted as political. Well aware of that risk, just like Ananias, I am called to deliver the message anyway.

There were two cities we visited that had a remarkable similarity; the two cities were Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and both of these cities had bicycles everywhere. While we were in Amsterdam, we took a canal boat tour of the city, and one of the things that the guide told us is that once a year the city dredges out the canals. It seems that when the useful life of a bicycle has expired, a favorite place to send the bike to its final resting place is to drop it in a canal. When the city of Amsterdam performs its annual ritual of canal dredging, they remove about 15,000 bicycles from the canals. Crazy. The guide also told us that there are about 2.8 million people in the Amsterdam area and an estimated 3 million bicycles…figure that one out. They have parking garages, actual multi-floored structures, which are just for bicycle parking. There are bicycles everywhere.

I bring this up because one of the cultural differences you notice right away between the United States and these cities is there is a definite energy awareness among the residents that is not present here in the states. Use of bicycles is just a part of that awareness. The presence of wind and solar power is also a big part of that cultural shift in awareness. I’m sure the price of gasoline has something to do with all of this as well; converting the foreign currency is hard enough, but then you also have to realize that they sell gas by the liter and not the gallon, so there is more conversion. My best guess is that gas is somewhere between $6 and $8 a gallon, but that is just a guess, so many people choose to walk or bike their way to work and to run errands, etc.

When we were in Oslo, Norway it was also very similar. One of the things we did in Oslo was visit the Nobel Peace Prize Museum, which was a fabulous experience, but it was also quite personal, because I have a personal connection to two different Nobel Peace Prize winners. By personal connection, I mean that I have met these people personally, and while I may remember the event, I’m pretty certain they do not. The two winners who I have met are former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice-president Al Gore. President Carter was awarded the Peace Prize for his work in bringing peace to the Middle East during his presidency and Al Gore was awarded the Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change. I am quite familiar with Mr. Gore’s work on climate change, as I had the privilege of participating in the Climate Project, which was organized through the efforts of Mr. Gore. It involved my spending an entire week in Nashville, many hours with Al Gore himself, learning about the subject, developing an ability to answer questions, and learning how to present the slideshow Power Point presentation that is the basis of the award-winning movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

I want to show you just a small clip from that movie, An Inconvenient Truth, because it has relevance to an experience we had in Copenhagen. During this part of the movie, Mr. Gore is explaining how through the analysis of ice cores scientists can determine the CO2 content of the atmosphere for thousands of years into our past. He charts these results on a graph and then compares those results with the current CO2 level emissions. But he has some fun with it while he’s at it-so let’s give it a look.

Play movie clip

I wanted you to see this graphic representation of what has happened to our CO2 emissions over the last 100 years or so, because there is a sculpture in Copenhagen that we stumbled across that uses this same representation. This sculpture seemed odd at a distance; I wasn’t exactly certain of what we were looking at. It was also a little disturbing and I couldn’t quite understand why it would be centrally located in a government square in Copenhagen.

So we walked a little closer to investigate and try to find some more information regarding this particular sculpture. This is what we discovered;

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – A sculpture of an impaled polar bear went on display on Friday in front of the Danish parliament to highlight the impact of global warming.

The seven-meter high metal sculpture named “Unbearable” depicts a graph of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere sky-rocketing into the belly of a polar bear, gutting its abdomen and almost penetrating the back of the beast. Polar bears are among the animal species most threatened by the increase in global temperatures.

“The rate at which our ice caps are melting is crazy. It is going way faster than what people expect,” said Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt who produced the sculpture in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund.

The sculpture was first unveiled at the Paris climate summit last December where world leaders pledged to do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions. (The sculpture) is a symbol of the need to hold on to the climate deal we made in Paris. We need to keep working on climate solutions, sharpen our goals and make more initiatives to convert to sustainable energy,” said Christian Poll, energy spokesman for the project.

The arrival of the sculpture coincides with data from Greenland, a former Danish colony, which showed its ice sheet melting more rapidly this year during the onset of spring. The data showed almost 12 percent of the ice sheet surface melting by April 11, a level usually only reached in May.

What the article from Reuters failed to mention is that the graph of CO2 emissions in the sculpture is constructed out of oil pipeline pipe, which adds more to the symbolism of the entire sculpture. The article also says the sculpture is 7 meters in height, which for us sometimes doesn’t mean much, so let me convert that for you. 7 meters is very close to being exactly 23 feet. To give you a rough idea of the size of this sculpture, it is approximately 22 feet to the top of the cross here in our sanctuary. So it is a large sculpture.

Of course because of the size and rather graphic nature of this sculpture, it carries a dramatic impact. But beyond that initial impact, what I found to be particularly interesting is that the sculpture is found in front of the Danish Parliament building. If it were in this country that would mean the sculpture would be in Washington DC in front of the capitol building where congress meets. If you think about that for a minute, you realize that would probably never happen.

So here is where I feel a bit like Ananias. The rest of the world recognizes the serious nature and the threat of climate change. The rest of the world is willing to engage in dialogue about what needs to be done and what the path forward looks like. The rest of the world is fully engaged in developing alternative sources of energy, beginning to pivot off the burning of fossil fuels and is confronting the issue of climate change head on.

In this country, unfortunately, we are still blinded by the light of corporate greed.

Perhaps if enough people pray for the scales to fall from our eyes, we will see what needs to be done and we will develop the political will to actually do something. The task of Ananias was to pray for Saul and help him see the truth in both a literal and metaphorical sense. Our task is the same. Climate Change is the single most important issue this planet has ever faced; it is also the most urgent; and our United States of America is politically blind and paralyzed to that fact. And we need to pray for the scales to fall from the eyes of our leaders and begin to move forward with the rest of the world and solve this problem.

Even if it makes us uncomfortable.

And that is food for thought.

Amen.

Sermon: June 5, 2016 – “The Fjords of Life”

The Fjords of Life

Text: Romans 8: 31,35,37-39

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I think it is interesting that even 2000 years ago the rhetorical question was a useful literary device. At least that is how I perceive the opening question that Paul poses in this text; if God is for us, who is against us? This is a rhetorical question. To define a rhetorical question moves you into a gray area, but most people agree the definition is a question that everyone already knows the answer to, or there is no answer to. The rhetorical question is a device that is generally used to help make a point; seldom is it to be taken at face value or taken as an actual question. I believe that Paul’s question in this text is certainly rhetorical in nature. Obviously, if God is for us, then anything that is against us will not prevail.

But that answer often surfaces a conundrum of sorts, because it is obvious that bad things still happen and at times it feels like what is against us is winning. How do you explain that? Paul even lists some of those things in the text, he talks about hardship and distress, persecution or famine-Paul lists all these things and more and yet maintains that in all these things the love of God is still present. This position seems oxymoronic at best or perhaps completely delusional in a worst case scenario. What are we to think?

This is perhaps one of the most profound and important theological questions of all the questions. Where is God when bad things happen? We all know that bad things happen, personally they take place and globally they take place. Where was the love of God during the holocaust or where is it during times of child abuse, or rape or incest or murder or violence or war? Where is the love of God at these times? It can leave you wondering.

One place for me to begin is to challenge some of our assumptions about the love of God. Is it possible we cling to a number of misconceptions about what it means to have the love of God present in our lives? What does it mean to have the love of God present? Does it mean that things will always be good? I don’t think most of us believe that, although if we are completely honest with ourselves we might be closer to that thought than we realize.

Does having the love of God present in our lives protect us from grief or harm or suffering? Paul admits in his letter to the Romans that all these things can be present in our lives and the love of God is still there. Paul maintains that no matter what takes place, nothing can separate us from the love of God.

For me, that raises another obvious and perhaps rhetorical question. If the love of God is present in the midst of horrible circumstances or violence or unimaginable suffering, then what good is it? What does it do for me? Why should I care if I am going to suffer anyway? Another way of asking the same question is if the love of God is present in the midst of suffering, where is the evidence of that love? What does it look like? How do I know it is present when the whole world is falling down around me?

I believe most of us have felt this way one time or another. Perhaps we have had similar thoughts or asked similar questions. I think many of us have the questions run through our minds, but we simply are afraid to ask. It isn’t nice to challenge God. It isn’t nice to get angry or to wrestle with God about these things; it is better to just be a good Christian and keep your smile in place and keep telling yourself that God is in control.

How many of us just simply pretend that everything is OK? How many of us just pretend that our faith sustains us when we are ravaged on the inside? How many of us just pretend that these questions which have tough answers don’t really matter? How many of us just pretend that we might understand if we were smarter or had more education or perhaps we were a better Christian? Pretending doesn’t do anyone any good; and yet I feel like that is really what we do. We pretend. We pretend because we don’t understand. We simply cannot reconcile the love of God being present in the midst of pain and anguish; we cannot reconcile the love of God being present during horrible acts of violence and cruelty. So we pretend.

I believe these kinds of questions have plagued humanity for centuries. I believe Paul tried to answer them, I believe people still struggle to answer them in their own minds. So often the answers found in church or in a sermon or even in the Bible are thin and shallow and gloss over the pain and suffering we are experiencing. Simply put, many of the answers are not that helpful.

There is a song that was written by Paul Simon that I think identifies this dichotomy in a beautiful and mysterious way. For me, the lyrics are hauntingly familiar, they relate to things I have felt and experienced all my life. The lyrics directly confront some of these questions. I want us to take a look at these lyrics and then listen to the song; the name of the song is “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall”.

Through the corridors of sleep
Past the shadows dark and deep
My mind dances and leaps in confusion.
I don’t know what is real,
I can’t touch what I feel
And I hide behind the shield of my illusion.

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall.

The mirror on my wall
Casts an image dark and small
But I’m not sure at all it’s my reflection.
I am blinded by the light
Of God and truth and right
And I wander in the night without direction.

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall.

It’s no matter if you’re born
To play the King or pawn
For the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow,
So my fantasy
Becomes reality,
And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow.

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall.

Let’s have a listen to the artistry of Paul Simon and Arthur Garfunkel – play song

Buried in these lyrics is the answer to our questions; buried in these lyrics is the solution to the theological conundrum presented in the text in Romans where I began. Buried in these lyrics is the key to ending our suffering, the key to overcoming our pain and the key to a fulfilling and meaningful life. Did you hear it? Did you get it?

For me, the answer to all of our questions lies in the phrase, I must be what I must be and face tomorrow.

Acceptance of who you are, where you are and what is happening around you is the key to ending suffering. As the song says, the line in thinly drawn between joy and sorrow. Perhaps what defines that line is our own thoughts and our own ability to accept the present moment.

I’m going to ask you to really think about a couple of things. Knowing that there is a risk that a heavy rain or a hail storm might destroy the flowers, we plant them anyway. We know that the sun will always rise, even in the midst of a storm. We may not see the sun, but we know it is there because it slowly gets light, even when it is cloudy or stormy. I think this is what Paul was saying as well.

When we were in Norway, we cruised among the fjords of Norway. A fjord is a remarkable product of geography. It is also the product of unimaginable force and destruction and violence. At the hands of glaciers that ripped open great wounds on the countryside, pushing rock and debris that would create a pile 13 miles high, and with such relentless pressure and longevity, this fjord was created. What is now beautiful once was the scene of mass destruction and violence. This fjord is over two miles deep, that is more than 10,000 feet. This fjord was carved to a depth equal to many of our highest mountain peaks. And look at the results.

Simply put, the fjords of Norway remind me of what can happen as a result of struggle and conflict and resistance. The depth of beauty is almost beyond comprehension, but it didn’t happen without a struggle. A fjord doesn’t form without conflict.

I’m not suggesting that God causes bad things. I’m not even suggesting that God allows bad things to happen. What I am suggesting is that the line between joy and sorrow is thinly drawn and we don’t always understand or appreciate our circumstances. What I am suggesting is that even in the midst of our anxiety and anguish, we can find a strength that allows us to be what we must be and face tomorrow. Often with that tomorrow, with the promise of the rising sun, we will witness a new dawn, a new beginning and a depth of character that was not present before.

When we encounter the fjords of life, and all of us will, let’s not succumb to the temptation to just pretend. Embrace the struggle, embrace the pain and be what you must be with full acceptance and full participation, knowing that tomorrow will come. Hold on to the assurance granted us in the depth of beauty of the fjords of Norway and in the words of Paul; if God is for us, who can be against us?

Food for thought. Amen.