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.

 

 

 

 

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