Monday, November 1, 2010

How can it be well?

Today I thought I would share the message that I gave at church yesterday at the strange confluence of Reformation Sunday and a tragic loss in our community, the thoughts were my best attempt at making sense of things we don't understand.  The scriptures to go along with it are included as well.

Romans 3:19-28 (TNIV)
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in [a] Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, [b] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the "law" that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
John 8:31-36 (TNIV)
 31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."      33 They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?"    34 Jesus replied, "Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther--described as "a poor, emaciated monk"--nailed to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg, Germany ninety-five Latin theses.  The theses condemned "indulgences" (the selling of pardons by the Catholic Church); made a plea for repentance; and invited sinners to salvation by grace.
Luther's theses were copied, translated, and spread throughout Europe--and the Protestant Reformation was born, lighting the way for John Calvin, John Knox, Karl Barth and us.  At one point this week, I thought the paragraph I just read was going to be the focus of the entire message this morning.  But, as we all know, this week didn’t go according to the plan and we are here this morning with a heavy heart and the Sutro family on our minds and in our prayers.
Earlier this week I shared on my blog some thoughts about how we respond to tragedy and difficult circumstances in our lives, and I want to share them again here.  I highlighted a scripture passage from 2Kings, which I always find myself turning back to whenever these difficult times in life come up.  The passage highlights what happens when we turn to God and trust in God in times of grief and sorrow. 
2 Kings 4:8-36 (New International Version)
 8 One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. 9 She said to her husband, "I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let's make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us."   11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, "Call the Shunammite." So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 Elisha said to him, "Tell her, 'You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?' "  She replied, "I have a home among my own people."   14 "What can be done for her?" Elisha asked.
      Gehazi said, "Well, she has no son and her husband is old." 
15 Then Elisha said, "Call her." So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 "About this time next year," Elisha said, "you will hold a son in your arms."  "No, my lord," she objected. "Don't mislead your servant, O man of God!"   17 But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.   18 The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers. 19 "My head! My head!" he said to his father.  His father told a servant, "Carry him to his mother." 20 After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died. 21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.   22 She called her husband and said, "Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return."   23 "Why go to him today?" he asked. "It's not the New Moon or the Sabbath."   "It's all right," she said.   24 She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, "Lead on; don't slow down for me unless I tell you." 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.   When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, "Look! There's the Shunammite! 26 Run to meet her and ask her, 'Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?' "   "Everything is all right," she said.   27 When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, "Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me why."28 "Did I ask you for a son, my lord?" she said. "Didn't I tell you, 'Don't raise my hopes'?"   29 Elisha said to Gehazi, "Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy's face."   30 But the child's mother said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So he got up and followed her.   31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy's face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, "The boy has not awakened."   32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy's body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.   36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, "Call the Shunammite." And he did. When she came, he said, "Take your son." 37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.

Apart from the miracles in the story, which are amazing, I want us to focus on the words – and the understanding, the faith of the mother.  She repeats this phrase that summarizes her understanding of God’s providence and her example of truly, fully trusting in and on God: It is all right – or in earlier translations (and in the famous hymn): It is well.
After her son has died, as she is leaving to find Elisha – she tells her husband – it is alright – (her son is dead and her only words to her husband is ‘it is well’.  When Elisha sees her and sends his servant to see if there is something wrong – if the boy is okay – her response ‘everything is alright’ – it is well
What happens after she finally tells Elisha about her son’s death is what we all recognize as the miracle – and it is miraculous how Elisha brings the child back to life.  But there is a miracle to be found in the words and faith of the Shunammite woman as well.
For according to her – it was well and everything was alright before Elisha had brought her son back to life.  The miracle is the perspective we can have; the peace we can feel when we are truly, really trusting in and on God.   It is well – these are not the words of satisfaction after our wish has been granted, but they are words of faith, trust and hope meant to be spoken in the midst of pain, sorrow and grief.  It is well. 
Simply put, when we are able to let go of our fear and anxiety, when we are able to stop trying to ‘make it right’ on our own – and fully trust in God.  It is well and everything is alright
Not after God has ‘fixed’ things – but right here, right now in the midst of our fear, our pain, our sickness, our grief – in the middle of this fallen and broken world.  It is well because God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is present here with us in the midst of it – and God can do that which we cannot. 
Everything is alright, because we can lean into and on the power, wisdom and peace of the Holy Spirit – power, wisdom and peace that is beyond our understanding.  And that power, wisdom and peace is certainly beyond our ability to obtain it for ourselves.
And this is exactly what we are remembering today with Reformation Sunday.  This was the heart of the reformation  - and continues to be the heart of what it means to be ‘reformed’:  Full reliance on and trust in God – with the knowledge and understanding that we are incapable of ‘getting it right’
There are times in this life where we simply can’t make it on our own.  We weren’t designed to and we aren’t capable of it.  In fact, our inability to make it through life and our inability to earn a place in God’s family on our own is the reason Jesus came to earth and choose to die on the cross. 
The understanding that we can’t get to God by ourselves and we can’t make it through life on our own – that piece of knowledge, is a fundamental starting point of our faith. 
And it is why Luther and others found the ‘indulgences’ that the church was selling as the tipping point at which they could no longer stay silent – the church is not the body of Christ is it is selling tickets to heaven.  Our inability to ‘earn’ or gain salvation by ourselves, apart from the grace of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, is in fact The Truth that sets us free.
The truth that Jesus proclaimed over and over again (and in our Gospel passage today): None of us can be justified by the law – that is on our own merit or by our own means.  But all of us can claim justification and salvation in relationship with Jesus Christ, which is freely offered to all of us.
Once we accept and believe in that truth, we are free of the burdens that come with trying to earn or – as was the case in the reformation, literally trying to buy your way into eternal life with God. 
The acceptance of that truth opens the door to freedom.   We are now Free to allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us.  Free, through the Spirit, to be who God created us to be and who we are called to be.
Free to fully experience and appreciate the love God has for us –demonstrated in Jesus Christ. 
The grace God has for us – given freely to us by Christ on the cross.
And the peace God has for us – present and active in our lives through the presence of the Holy Spirit. 
It is by accepting the truth that we are hopeless and powerless to help ourselves and experiencing the freedom that comes with accepting the saving help of Jesus Christ that we can begin to say – it is well – because our wellness isn’t dependant on what we can do or handle – but on Jesus Christ. 
It is this idea that Paul is speaking of in 2Corinthians 4:6-8
6For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness,"[a]made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. . . .
8We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
The freedom that we have in Christ does not promise us a life without despair, persecution or difficulty – those are unavoidable realities of this life.  But what the freedom and salvation of Jesus Christ does promise is that when we trust in God, when we lean on God and lean into God’s will for our lives that we may be hard pressed on every side but we will not be crushed. 
We may be perplexed, but not in despair. 
We may be persecuted but we will never be abandoned. 
And we may be struck down, but because we are in Christ we will not ever be destroyed. 
And it is because of that truth and that assurance – that our fate does not lie in our own hands – is not up to our own skills or abilities, but instead rests on the saving love and grace of Jesus Christ that we are able to say, it is well.

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