October 2, 2016

Sermon by The Reverend Christian J. Baron, 20th Sunday After Pentecost, Year C, Luke 17: 5-10

“For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…
Good morning…

As some of you may know, I completed my undergrad at a small Bible College in Grand Rapids. I started at Central College, a small liberal arts College in Pella Iowa, but I finished at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids. I actually graduated with a double major: Bible and Youth Ministry… And… it only took me 12 years. I graduated and celebrated my 30th birthday party, and the baptism of my first born, all at the same time.
At the Bible College, I didn’t really fit in. I had a beard… I was married… I had a child… I was in a very different stage in life. My assumptions about life and the Church were very different from my fellow classmates and from my professors. Often times, the professor would look past my raised hand… knowing that there just wasn’t time for any more of these kinds of questions…
I had a few professors let me know that my questions weren’t really very helpful to them and what the class was trying to accomplish. If I was a freshman right out of high school, that may have kept me quiet, but I knew that the loans I was taking out would be sticking around for a long time. I wanted to try to ask as many questions as possible and to get my money’s worth.
You see my questions weren’t helpful sometimes because I didn’t really buy into a theology of predestination. I had questions about the goodness of a God who would allow suffering. A God who would allow a Tsunami in Indonesia. An earthquake in Haiti. A God who wouldn’t stop an event like the terrorist attacks on 9-11 at the World Trade Center.
I was working at a residential treatment facility that tried to treat juvenile sex offenders. Where was God when horrible things happened? Where was God when the weak and the marginalized were victims of sin and oppression or when humans were victims to natural disasters.
Easy answers from the Bible about God’s plan angered me.
The Problem of Evil, for whatever reason, bothered me. Not because, I myself, had walked through a traumatic event in my life… I hadn’t lost a spouse… I didn’t really have anything to complain about from my childhood… But for whatever reason, the problem of evil still, really, bothered me.
The concept of predestination and God’s Providence was stuck in my craw.
I’d like to pause in the story right now to make sure nobody is feeling left out or excluded. The Episcopal Church makes plenty of room for folks that find these specific shapes of theology helpful… And honestly, sometimes, I find them helpful… God is complex… God is a mystery… Just when you think you have her pinned down… she pokes her head up someplace else.
But these specific theologies, pre-destination and providence, are not helpful… in times of crisis. In times of tragedy. In times of great loss.
And these specific strains of theology, cannot be made sense of when we experience great loss. When we experience trauma or tragedy. Or, when our friends and family experience these kinds of things.
So, what must we do? As Humans… as Christians… as Episcopalians… When things get rough… when tough things happen… If it simply won’t do to accept terrible things as God’s plan?
If we know that the death of our loved one was not God’s plan?
If we know that God does not condone or endorse or cause the suffering of Syrian refugees?
If we know that the death of a friend has nothing to do with God needing another angel?
Are we to just write God off?
Just go through the motions even though our brains and our intellect will not… can not… make that leap?
Honestly, this is how people become cynical.
This is how people leave the Church.
This is how people lose their mustard seed sized faith.
I know because I was in that desert. I know because I looked in that seed packet and found it empty. I’m guessing some of you also have been to those places. Those deserts. I’m certain some of you are there now.
Well, the good news is that you won’t be there forever. I hope that is good news.
I trust that to be true.
Because I believe that God is good… And I believe that God has a vision and a dream. And… I believe that you and I can be a part of that Vision… a part of that dream… a part of that goodness..
Because God is the ultimate collaborator.
God chooses to include us… to allow us to participate in reality…
Any of us who have ever had children… or been around children… or any of us who have ever been a child… knows that our parents can be much more efficient if they just did all of the jobs… all of the chores.
At their best, adults can be patient and let their children fumble through life… let their children do their own laundry even though it makes twice the work for the adults… although it will cost the adults twice as much with almost any task.
Because… those of us who have been around children know… that we must let the child be invested in reality… we must give them chances to fail… we must give them opportunities to burn the eggs and ruin the lawn mower.
To ruin the saw and to over water the garden.
We must give them the chance to forget their lunches and to damage the car… Because that is how these itty bitty humans will learn to live and to love.
That is how they will find authenticity.
To feel great loss and to experience the beauty and emotion of great and passionate love and forgiveness.
And, God the lover… God the emotive and passionate Divine being… enjoys you…
God enjoys you…
As the collect for the day says, “Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.”
So, if you are in the desert. If you are experiencing desolationion… God will hear you.
God will hear you.
God hears you…
God is ready to hear you… even more than you are ready to cry out to Him.
And God will dole out more goodness than you are ready to receive.
If you are waiting on God… for yourself or on behalf of somebody else… God is here… with you… with us…
God is with.
And those of us at St. Philip’s will sit with you in your darkness… As we wait for….
Because through the Incarnation…when God became a human… God provided a way for the divine to relate and remain with us… to relate and remain WITH.
Friends, I invite you to take a moment to look around… the divine is all around us… in these pews.
In the laugh of a child.
Through the gentle touch of a warm friend.
In the liturgy and in the Eucharist and at this table…
“Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.”