Monday, April 14, 2008

Sermon: Easter 4 (April 13)

I love sports but I am not such a sports junkie that I watch post game interviews. But there I was catching up with ESPN and listening to the Memphis coach, John Calipari, explain his team’s collapse at the end of the NCAA Basketball Championship. I was expecting something about the terrible free throw shooting of his team, something they have done all year, in the finals losing a 9 point lead in 2 minutes but instead his comment caught my attention.

“I believe everything happens for a reason,” Calipari said and he elaborated. “And I sat there and I looked up and I said, 'Lord, if he makes this, these two, we're supposed to be national champs.' And if that's your will, I'm fine. And if he misses them and we're not, I'm fine with that, too.'”

One analyst that heard his comment, remarked that it wasn’t God’s will that Memphis should lose, it was missing so many free throws in the last 2 minutes of the game. A writer remarked on his comments by saying that God must be a Kansas Jayhawks fan…

Such reasoning that God’s will happened on the basketball court that night struck me then as it does now, a very strange idea. Oh, I believe in the will of God. I just don’t believe it has anything to do with our recreational sports, or for that matter, that everything in this world happens for a reason. Certainly there are reasons why things happen. My father died of a heart attack, not because God willed it, but because his arteries were blocked. He hated going to the doctor and a simple procedure might have saved his life, if he had gone to the Dr. or if we had seen the warning signs and forced him to go. But in that moment, I believe the choices my father did or didn’t make were still redeemed by God, whose will it is to welcome us home.

I understand the coach was trying to be OK with the outcome of the game, but his reasoning falters because things do not always happen as planned, and if we think about it, there are not always reasons or meanings behind every event, especially when it comes to tragedy.

It was an ordinary Wednesday morning in the small Scottish town of Dunblane on March 13, 1996. Before that day was over, 16 children and a teacher lay dead. A massacre perpetrated by one 43 year old man from town, who had guns and was mentally unstable. No reason was ever given why he did it. No note left… “Evil visited us yesterday. We don't know why.” said
Ron Taylor, head teacher of Dunblane Primary School. Of course, 3 years later we would have our own school massacre at Columbine HS, perpetrated by two teenage gunman.

Such terrible, tragic events are not reasonable events, we may come to understand why such events unfolded but God’s will is thwarted when such innocent life is taken away. Evil does not allow what God intends for us. What we do with such events, is strive to resist such evil, to strive for justice and good.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who resisted the Nazis, wrote, “I believe that God can and indeed intends to allow good to emerge from evil, even from the greatest evil. To that end, he needs people who make the best of everything. I believe that in every situation of distress God give us as much as strength to resist as we need. But he does not give it to us in advance, lest we come to rely on ourselves rather than on him alone.”

Bonhoeffer would continue to write, continue to speak out even from prison. He prayed with prisoners, they had communion with one another, he wrote letters, they couldn’t stop him, his faith buoyed him even on the worst of days. Just before the end of the war, as the Nazis were eliminating their prisoners, they hung Bonhoeffer. His last words on the way to the gallows, “This is the end, for me the beginning of life.”

There was no reason for his death save the Nazis finally wanted to silence him, but he refused to give into their evil, and he lived faithfully even in those last moments because he understood who it was that held the real power, the real gate to life.

"I am the gate," said Jesus. “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

Sadly we have too many thieves still in our world who through war, violence, extreme poverty, and disease, impede what God wants for us and all of God’s creation. Too much killing, stealing, destroying… Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Abundant life is God’s will, and if we look for it, we can find it in places, where it has risen out of such evil like Northern Ireland.

After 31 years of violence in Northern Ireland, a power sharing agreement has brought together the long warring parties and there is real peace in the land. And people from both sides who suffered, who lost loved ones, have come together for forgiveness, reconciliation and hope.

Our own Bishop Curry shared his story of his cross that came from a disassembled ak-47 rifle. How the country of Mozambique is coming back from a terrible civil war and how the people were destroying the weapons of war to create a climate of peace.

And it happens in our own encounters, in our own country…

A man was walking along the East River promenade in New York City in a very dejected state of mind. He was more than dejected—he was suicidal, was seriously contemplating climbing over the railing that separated the promenade from the river and throwing himself in. Life felt empty, meaningless, hollow. He felt that the writing he had devoted himself to for decades had no real value, and didn't amount to much, what had he really accomplished in life? As he stood staring at the dark, swirling water, trying to summon up the courage to do the deed, an excited voice interrupted his thoughts. "Excuse me," said a young woman, "I'm sorry to impose upon your privacy, it aren't you Christopher D'Antonio,* the writer?" He nodded indifferently. "I hope you don't mind my approaching you, but I just had to tell you what a difference your books have made in my life! They have helped me to an incredible degree, and I just wanted to ink you." "No, my dear, it is I who have to thank you!" Antonio said as he wheeled around, turned away from the East River and headed back home. (from Small Miracles)

This is our place of worship and communion knowing that we are kept safe by Jesus in his sheepfold, and from here we go out into the world to do God’s will, to live out abundant lives and to help other live abundantly too even with a simple thank you to a stranger.

Jesus the Good Shepherd will guide us out to the places where we need to be and will gather us back into the fold. And when that happens, then all of us, will begin to experience life as God intended. Amen.

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