First Presbyterian Church in Lafayette, Louisiana
February 27, 2011 – Ordinary A 8
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
As we begin to explore God's word to us today I'm going to take a risk and ask you to play a little game called Word Association with me. This is a game that can go horribly awry or can be terribly insightful. With any luck – or maybe I should say, with God's providence – you may get more out of the game than anything else I might have to say.
If nothing else, think of the game as a spiritual exercise. God is in our midst, and if we open our hearts and minds we might just get a deeper understanding of God's presence.
So, here is how to play: I will say a word, and you will say the first word or phrase that comes to your mind. Your word does not have to make an obvious logical connection, although it very well might. [The following words were given one at a time with time in between for verbal responses: Peanut Butter, Hope, Happy, Fidelity, Trust]
Thank you! We ended with trust because it is the theme that flows through our scriptures today. Can we, in the desolate places of our souls, trust God to restores us? Do we trust that the judgment of God brings commendation rather than condemnation? Can we trust in God to provide for our needs? It is pretty easy to say "Yes!" to these questions, but it is pretty hard to do "Yes!" to them.
Really, telling us not to worry is like telling the wind not to blow quite so much. Does Jesus not realize that anxiety is the primary fuel driving the engine of the largest economy in the world? Yet overly confident consumers and investors focused only on short-term gain are the very things that almost drove our economy into the ditch only a few years ago. The ripples are still being felt. How dare he tell us not to worry about the future?
Yet, the command not to worry is not uncommon in our culture. Every generation seems to have an anthem that picks up this theme. In the 1950's Judy Garland performed "Get Happy", an even older gospel tune that focused on what most songs of this nature do – the afterlife. In the '60's the Beetle's sang "Money Can't Buy Me Love," one of the many songs that made Paul McCartney one of the richest performers in history – at least until his recent divorce. In the '70's Bob Marley sang, "Don't worry 'bout a thing, 'cause every little thing's gunna be alright" in the song, "Three Little Birds." Then in the '80's came the iconic, "Don't worry. Be happy." by Bobby McFerrin.
There are plenty of other songs we can come up with. Goggle the terms "Happy Song" and you will get 24 million options ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. What I think is interesting about these is the way they show us how God is so very present in the midst of our world. While we hide in the shadows of our fears, God is present and active.
God is offering us the promise of eternal reward, and God is holding our hands and guiding our feet even as we stumble and turn and run like a child who just wants to see what is over on the other side of that barricade. God is reminding us through music and conversation and the experience of skinned knees and hearts that things are not as substantial as relationships. God is telling us through scripture and in our quiet reflection that our ability to control and make and manipulate is limited, but the work that God is doing through us is not!
Unfortunately, I don't think that means that God is saying, "Don't worry, be happy." Rather I believe it means that God is saying, "Yes – you have things to worry about, but don't. Make a different choice. Choose to trust me. Choose to trust that I have something bigger in mind. So, do not worry. Worry leads to fear. Fear leads to isolation. Isolation leads to pain and suffering. Choose to trust that I love you. Choose to trust that I am with you even in places that are desolate and without hope. Choose to be in a relationship with me, and let that relationship guide your destiny."
I once had a conversation with a young woman who was caught up in the web of this issue without even knowing it. She was sixteen and her family members were pillars of the church. She was actively involved in the youth group and very energetic about faith. The thing I never noticed is that she always wore long sleeves. One year at a youth conference in Montreat, North Carolina, she said she had been struggling and needed to talk. I asked her permission and had another adult join us. Through tears and conversation she raised her sleeve to show that she had been cutting.
Cutting is the practice of making small cuts on a body part. It is not suicidal behavior. It is a way of focusing pain and suffering that you cannot deal with by injuring yourself. It is as unhealthy mentally as it is physically, and it is very serious. We talked about it for quite a while, and I asked her how this connected with faith. Where is Jesus in this pain that you are trying to control? She said that she knew that he died for her, and that maybe it is in the blood of the cross that he suffers with her.
Suddenly I was reminded of a friend who once made the distinction between a cross and a crucifix for me. She said, "My Christ is alive!" So, I asked this young girl what she thought about that. I suggested that maybe, just maybe, she had not allowed the resurrection to happen in her own life. I said, "Maybe Jesus remains on the cross for you. Maybe it would help to begin thinking about Jesus as alive and that resurrection can happen in your life, too."
I wish I could tell you that it was a silver bullet. To be honest, I'll never know. I know that she continued to struggle, and I know that she continued to grow in faith. I know she sought counseling from a professional therapist, and I know that her faith remains a fundamental part of her life. We are still connected through the Holy Spirit, and Facebook. She married her high school sweet heart. I believe that she still worries about things, but I don't believe her worries own her the way they used to – at least not on most days. In fact, there's even a picture on her Facebook page from a recent sky diving experience.
I believe that is the heart of today's message. If God can take the Israelites out of slavery and isolation and move them into community… if God can take the church in Corinth and move them from condemnation to commendation… if God can create a fertile earth out of the dust of the universe and whimsically paint flowers while intentionally filling our complex minds with thoughts and the ability to reason… if God can inspire us to tame the wind and send satellites into orbit… surely God can do more than we think or feel possible when we simply decide to trust in God's intention for our lives.
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, but what is the Kingdom of God? Just ask Isaiah. He knows. "Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, 'Come out,' to those who are in darkness, 'Show yourselves.' They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them."
Where have you become imprisoned? God is calling you and me to come out of the shadows and experience resurrection. God will surely "bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart," but why wait? Every one of us needs redemption, forgiveness, and resurrection every day of our lives.
Most days we try our best to live like we are just fine or at least content to wait until judgment day for all of that resurrection stuff. Right now we are in the midst of Mardi Gras season, and although I am an outsider – it's not hard to figure out what is going on here. Over the next few days we will celebrate the uniqueness and the common unity we have as human beings. We will celebrate the fact that we are limited, and many will do it by acting like they have no limitations.
That is essentially what Jesus means by saying that we cannot serve God and wealth at the same time. He is saying, "Money can't buy you love." God is telling us that we have been created, called, and ordered as a community to care for one another. We have been given each other to experience the joy of what a friend recently called, "mutual submission." We have been given to each other so that your needs may become my needs and mine yours. In this way we realize that today's trouble is enough for today. In this way we remember that God is both the Judge and the Redeemer and that judgment and redemption are active parts of our lives right here and now!
If we can do that, if we can trust in God's active presence, then we will probably find ourselves in a position to do the impossible – just like my young friend who moved from self mutilation to sky diving! Her miracle was not over night, and it is very far from over. But her miracle has become a reality through faith in Christ and the opportunity to respond to God's grace. May it be the same with you. May it be the same with me. And to God be the glory, now and always. Amen!