For God so loved the world . . . -- How can you claim He loves the world with everything that has happened? -- It is a question which I have heard repeatedly these past few weeks. Mostly, they have come from outside our parish, but as world events keep rushing along, more and more parishioners are hearing it from their unbelieving or doubting friends, family, and co-workers. The questions first came from our neighbors, as they came to grips with the senseless death at Garfield and Fairmount of an abused woman allegedly killed by her abusing boyfriend. The questions also came from drop-in’s at church who wondered whether God still even knows what the poor are suffering. Food prices are up. Gasoline prices are up. Wages sure are not. The events in Japan finally pushed a lot of people over the edge. Isolated tragedies are one thing, but to pound a country with three major catastrophes in a matter of hours and days seemed cruel. And we, as Christians, claim that God loves us. Have we lost our collective minds?
We may think it is obvious that we have not, but sometimes the wider world forgets the simplicity of God’s offer. God asks us to accept His offer. He gives us the freedom to choose or to reject that offer. We call it free will. But God also reminds us that there are consequences to our choices. Sometimes, He acts to thwart those consequences. Sometimes He allows the consequences to play out so that we learn from our mistakes. As our perfect Father, the lessons He imparts truly are for our benefit and learning. He knows, like any parent knows, that sometimes the children need to learn for themselves the “why” of certain instructions or lessons. Always, though, He reminds us that nothing is beyond His power to redeem. No matter how bad things seem, no matter how out of control events may spiral, He can always use the event for good and for His plan of salvation.
The Bible is full of countless examples of His ability to redeem all things. Family dysfunction? Yes, He covers that. Great natural disasters? Yep, He has those in there, too. Individual feelings of unworthy or failure? Yes, He covered those as well. Long odds in war? Yes, that’s in there. Oppressive governments or leaders? There are more than a few. Some of these events and people conspire openly against His plan, only to find failure their reward. Some of these events and people struggle against Him, not understanding His lesson until later, if ever. And always, His plan proceeds, sometimes even with those who fought against Him now working hard for Him!
You and I live in a time where that reminder of His love is incredibly important. People around us, trusting in themselves or various institutions are experiencing terrible failure. Scientists in Japan are an obvious example. No one planned for 9.0 earthquakes, 33 foot tsunamis, and week-long power outages. Imagine the toll on those scientists who, in their own eyes, failed and dishonored themselves and their families? In a culture where ritual suicide has deep roots, can you imagine the temptation for them to take their lives? People living around us have learned that their “safe” neighborhood contains individuals who do believe that all human beings were created with rights and in His image. They have taken for granted the idea that bad things occur elsewhere in the QCA. Now, they have discovered that there may be “bad people” living among them. What can be done? All of us know people who seem to get their extra share of bad events in their lives. Some of us may even suffer those extra measures of evil. We recover from one disease only to find ourselves beset with another. We finally find a job to end our unemployment, only to find that the new company is just on the verge of bankruptcy. Each of us can think of the rain in our lives or the lives of others and wonder when , if ever, it will stop.
Yet, you and I are called to be heralds of His kingdom. Where others see failure and ruin, you and I are called to see opportunities for renewal. Sometimes, those seeds of renewal can be spread by a simple word, but, more often than not, it requires a great deal of work. With our Lord’s image and commandment in our minds, and reminded each week of His ability to overcome all things in the world, we are sent out to proclaim that God loves us? How do we know? Had He wanted to condemn us to death, as was and is His right, He could have just left us alone. Our sins, both individually and corporately, would have done the job. Instead, He chose to come among us as fully human. He chose to teach and feed us. And when the time came, He chose to be obedient to His Father in heaven and walk the path of the cross. You and I will never fully understand the pain and suffering He bore for each one of us, and all of whom we meet each day, that dark Friday so long ago. But we each understand the portion that He bore for us, and the joy which we experience knowing that we have been raised to new life in Him and made worthy to stand before our Father in heaven.
And so, were we with our brothers and sisters in Japan this day, we would likely worship God and head back out to help gather up the pieces, help collect the memories, help locate and provide assistance to the struggling, help find and mourn the dead, confident that our labors, even against that unimaginable destruction, would sow so seeds, would water and nourish the faith planted in others, and demonstrate to the world around us His love for them. How do I know this? Look at your actions already. How much food have you given the hungry and homeless? Yet, still they come. How many people have you as a parish or as a group of Intercessors prayed for? Yet, still there is need. How many rents, electrical bills, tanks of gasoline, groceries, prescription drugs, and the like have you covered? And just on my bulletin board I have 13 more individuals seeking help, never mind the need in the wider community. How big is the giant of Human Trafficking? And yet almost all of you have figured out a way to help the church fight it with our meager resources and talents.
Why? Might I suggest that many of us gathered here have begun to understand faith, and many of its implications? We have, as the author of Acts says elsewhere, but with which St. Paul would certainly agree, been convinced of the truth revealed to us by God, and become accepting of unseen promises of God, confidant that He will act on that truth and on His promises. We may not understand the future redemption in the events in Japan, or in our neighborhood, or necessarily in our lives (or the lives of those around us with clarity), but we can act as His hands, His mouth, and whatever else may be needed certain of His love for those whom we help and certain of His ability and power to redeem. And we can share how His love has acted in our pasts to foster our faith.
What if, sitting here, you find yourself saying “I think he’s lost it. Nothing can redeem ________.” That’s ok. Look around you. Read your Bible. There are many examples of individuals who shared your thoughts. You are not alone, and He does understand. Ask God to open your eyes and understanding to His word. Ask your neighbors to share what in their lives inspired such faith and confidence in God. Who knows? Maybe one of the redemptive acts of the events occurring in our midst and in our time will be the quickening of your faith, a quickening that may well ultimately result in the spread of the kingdom to the lives of those around and most dear to you.