October 14, 2018

Things You Never Want to Hear Your Pastor Say - Part 4

21st
 Sunday of Pentecost

First Lesson:  Habakkuk 3:16-18

Second Lesson:  James 1:5-8

Gospel Lesson:  Matthew 16:13-17

Sermon Text:  Galatians 2:20

If you haven’t been with us for a few weeks, we are in the midst of a sermon series focusing on things you never want to hear your pastor say.  And let’s get right to it today.  Something none of us ever want to hear a pastor say is this: “It happened because of sin.”  I’ll give you a second to think about that.  Doesn’t sound that bad, does it?  That’s not something that makes us squirm in our seats or gets our blood simmering, if not boiling because it goes against what our hearts want to believe. 

Actually, maybe you wonder why this statement would make the series.  We regularly talk about the fact that things are messed up, broken, decaying, and dying because sin is a part of this world.  It is biblical truth to say that everything evil, bad, and wrong that happens in this world is because of sin.  Why is that something we never want to hear?

Well, maybe never is too strong, but there are certain times when we absolutely don’t want to hear a pastor say, “It is because of sin.”  Like when?  The first time I had someone react negatively to me saying that was after Hurricane Katrina.  I can’t believe I have to do this since it seems like yesterday, but children, Katrina was a hurricane that devastated New Orleans 10 or so years ago.  A member at our church in Ohio came up to me and asked, “Why did that happen?”  I turned the question around.  “Why do you think it happened?”  He went on to talk about how New Orleans is crime ridden, gambling is everywhere, prostitution is not uncommon, alternative lifestyles, and all the partying that goes on down there.  That, in his mind, is why it happened.  But he was wrong.  I told him he had better get his boat ready.  When he asked why, I asked him a question.  “Do we have all those things New Orleans has here in Columbus?”  He nodded.  I followed it up with, “What happened down there happened because of sin, because this is a messed up world, and because things are not the way God intended them to be.”  He didn’t like that answer.  I believe he wanted to use what happened to start some moralistic crusade.  But the truth is unavoidable.  Katrina, and all the devastation it caused, happened because of sin.

Still, I realize that what I just said isn’t that shocking.  In your heart you know it is true, that all that happened due to sin.  But here is the point.  We don’t like hearing that when we want an answer, a specific answer as to why something happened.  Likely all of you remember what happened at Sandy Hook school – almost 30 victims, most of them young.  I was asked the question again.  “Why did this happen?”  I gave the same answer.  “It happened because of sin.”  Three years ago I was doing a devotion at Lighthouse.  The weekend before 5 murders were committed in Milwaukee.  An elderly chap asked why this happened.  I gave him the same answer.  “It happened because of sin.”

But still, you might be thinking, mass shootings, murder, natural disasters…  I know those are due to sin. Get very specific.  And I will speak personally.  Many of you know that 6 years ago my oldest sister passed away from cancer.  When she died, she had 4 kids, ages 16 down to 1.  She had lots of marital issues over the years, and the kids suffered because of them.  She was the closest thing to any stability they had.  Then she died.  Her youngest is with her father, and we have little to no contact with her.  The other 3 have had a very difficult time adjusting.  Why would God do this?  Why would he take a mother of an infant?  Why would disrupt the lives of her children, and, not to mention, cause my parents to have to watch one of their children slowly die?  While I knew in my heart the reason she died was because of sin, a struggled for a few days with that.  Part of me wanted answers, specific answers as to why God was following the plan he was following.  When I didn’t get them, when all I could come back to was, “This happened because of sin”, a part of me didn’t want to hear that.

So what is it for you?  I apologize if I may bring up some unpleasant memories, but what traumatic issues from the past caused you to want to specifically know why God did what he did or allowed what he allowed?  Maybe you were abused, verbally or physically, by someone whose job was to protect you – a parent or a family member.  Maybe you lost someone close to you before “their time”, a child, a mother, a husband.  Maybe you had years and years and years of visits to the doctor and surgeries, but somehow things are never really fixed.  Maybe you really struggle with depression.  Every year that passes means we can add more things to the list – things that haunt, bother, anger, sadden, and shake us to our core.

And because we’re human, we want answers. “Why did my uncle do that to me?”  “Why was my child taken from me?”  “Why did my dad have to die in such a painful way?” “Why can’t I get over the issues of my past?” “Why can’t I ever feel good – inside or outside?”  In varying degrees, and in one way or another, we have all at least pondered these questions.

Now, imagine you just experienced one of the traumatic issues we mentioned a few minutes ago.  Let’s say you lost a child.  You came to me to talk about that, and in the midst of tears and a broken heart, you asked, “Pastor, why did this happen?” If I only answer, “Your child is gone because of sin”, wouldn’t a part of you almost hate hearing that?  Wouldn’t you want answers, specific reasons why it happened and what possible plan might be in place?  Though you know sin is the ultimate reason your child is gone, in our hearts, we want more.  We want to know why, the reason, the purpose. 

But reality is that sometimes, maybe often times, God does not share that information with us.  Probably the hardest meetings with members I have is when they have gone through or are going through something really difficult.  I know they are going to ask the question, the why question.  And since I don’t have any more information than any of you do about God’s specific plan for each individual, I will have to honestly tell them that I don’t know why whatever happened did happen, besides the fact that sin if a part of this world and is the root cause of everything evil and wrong that occurs.

Maybe not right at this moment, but in your last time of trial, and likely in your next time of trial, you will struggle with this, this need to know and understand why.  And if unchecked, that desire can head south quickly.  We can start to question God’s love.  “If he loved me, he wouldn’t have let this happen.”  We can doubt his promises.  “Never will I leave you or forsake you?  I feel very alone and very forsaken.”  We can start looking elsewhere for some kind of comfort, be it a pill, a bottle, or throwing ourselves into all the wrong things to take our mind off it.  And where do all these roads end?  With us having distanced ourselves from our heavenly Father, but with even more angst, frustration, and pain than we had before.

So, am I saying we just need to get over it when bad things happen, that we may never ultimately know why certain things happened besides the simple truth that sin is part of this world?  No.  It is not wrong for us to ask the question of God.  Numerous people, including Jesus himself, at times asked this question of God.  But we need to be prepared for answers we don’t like, or, as is our focus today, no answer at all. 

“Well, that helps!  I suffer and I may never know the reason for it?  How can I live that way?”  There is an answer.  St. Paul says it best in Galatians.  “The life I live… I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Hear the answer again.  We live by faith in the Son of God, in Jesus our Savior. I know that sounds simplistic, but can you deny the truth of it?  Go back to any of the issues we mentioned – past trauma, losing a loved one, health concerns, etc.  What do we need to get through all those?  Not answers.  In fact, sometimes knowing why God did what he did or allowed what he allowed would only make it worse for us.  What do we need most?  Faith.

Faith in what?  Faith that our Lord knows what he is doing.  Faith that he has a reason for allowing what he allows.  Faith that he has a purpose for doing what he did.  Faith that he will live up to his promise to work all things for our good.  Faith that he has not forgotten about us.  Faith that he is not unsympathetic to our plight.  Faith that he will see us through the hard times.  Faith that he will prepare us for upcoming struggles.

I understand that is so easy to say – “Just have faith…”  But realize God does not call for blind faith.  Back to Paul’s words.  “I live by faith in the Son of God…”  Why is that so important?  Imagine you were the first disciple to start following Jesus.  Day after day, you heard him talk about his work, about winning forgiveness for people and a place in God’s family.  He talked about how he would fight sin and would emerge the victor.  For three years, block after block falls into place.  Then he goes to Jerusalem… and he is put to death in the most gruesome way possible.  What questions would you ask?  Why did this happen?  What is the plan?”

Well, there is an answer to both.  This happened to Jesus because of sin, because someone had to pay the price for it and sacrifice his perfect life.  And what is the plan?  Exactly what Jesus said it was.  By his death and resurrection, he defeated all his spiritual enemies.  Sin is no longer the master of his people.  Death is no longer the end of them.  Satan is no longer their king.  Instead, they are loved, welcomed, forgiven, heaven bound citizens of God’s eternal kingdom.  Surely the disciples struggled on Good Friday and the following Saturday.  Surely they asked the why and how questions.  But in the end, they realized what we realize.  This all happened for our good, for our best, for our spiritual, eternal benefit.

So what does all that have to do with faith?  At Calvary, even when things seemed their darkest, God was behind it all, working in his way to accomplish exactly what he wanted to happen.  We don’t have to have faith in that.  That is reality, part of the historical record.  It is fact.  But doesn’t that fact help us have faith as we move forward?  Answer these in your mind.  Do you think the God who was thinking about you when Jesus died and working all things for your good is different than the God who decided the time was right to call your child, your mom, or your husband to his side?  Do you think the Lord who watched the necessary suffering of his Son is unaware of your suffering and that he is unable to use that suffering for your benefit, as he did with Jesus’ suffering?  Do you think the Father from whom every good and perfect gift comes cannot work through hardship and pain to bring those gifts – whatever they may be – to you?

Maybe the simpler question to ask is this: Do you think the God who proved his undying love for you, who cares for you more than you can know, and who keeps every single promise he makes – do you think he has changed?  Our imperfect minds hesitate to answer.  Our faith does not.  “I know, Lord.  I know your love.  I know your promises.  I know my salvation through your Son.  And I know you will always be there for me in every way I need you to be there.”

We will always struggle with wanting to know more information, if not all the information, about why this happened or why that occurred.  At those times when there are no clear answers, let us be content to know that in this sinful world, bad things, evil things, will happen.  But let’s not get fixated on that. Let’s fixate our eyes and our hearts of faith on the one who has overcome this world – our Savior.  Let’s fixate our eyes and our hearts of faith on our heavenly Father – he who is working all things for our good.  And let’s fixate our eyes and hearts of faith on what the Spirit has revealed to us in the Word – God’s love and our place in his family.  Knowing that, we don’t need to know why.  Why not?  Because we… “live by faith in the Son of God who loves [us] and gave himself for [us].”  Amen.