Here’s What God Cannot Do . . .

You’ve heard the phrase: When God closes one door, God always opens another. I’m not sure where the statement comes from–it’s not in the Bible. And I don’t think it’s even true.

There are so many trite bumper-sticker theologies we can quote about closed doors:

  • When God closes a door, don’t keep hitting your head against it.
  • When God closes a door, maybe God wants YOU to open another door.
  • Actually, maybe God had nothing to do with closing that door.

We all know how difficult it is, when we look to God for help and we end up on a dead-end street.We’ve all been there—and we’ll be there again.

It helps to remember that just because it seems like a NO answer, it doesn’t mean “NO, you’re a bad person.” Or, “NO, you don’t deserve it.” NO may simply mean no. Sometimes we have to figure out another way. Sometimes we have to accept a different answer.

When God, or life says NO to us, or when things, people, or situations don’t go according to our plans, we might think that God has failed us. Or worse, we think that God doesn’t care—or that God doesn’t even notice.  Hymility-Gets-Gods-attention

But the truth is that God, simply by virtue of being God, cannot ignore us. If God’s nature is unlimited, unconditional love, then it is impossible for God to stop caring about us or to ignore us.

Yes, sometimes God says NO—and sometimes life says NO, because that’s how life is. But just because God or life may not give us everything we want, it does not mean that God has failed us. Not at all.

What it probably means is that we don’t understand God, or that we don’t see the full picture, or maybe that we have to keep trying.

Even when we may not recognize God’s presence, we are always assured of God’s love and attention. That is how/who God is.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Putting Humpty together again?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Humpty Dumpty ImageI’ve been haunted by that nursery rhyme all week. It speaks to me about recovering from violent trauma, or not fully recovering actually. Lord knows, we’ve had our share of violence lately.

The nature of trauma is that in the aftermath we are never quite the same again. This week’s racially motivated murders in South Carolina are right up there with Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the more recent, racially-charged incidents plaguing this country. People across America are stunned and damaged by the violence.

The American Psychological Association says that immediately after a traumatic event both shock and denial may occur. I assure you, both shock and denial were sitting in pews all across America today.

As I prepared my Sunday sermon this week, I wondered how the gospel lesson about Jesus in the boat calming the storm might address the racism responsible for the Charleston murders. And I kept coming back to the beginning of the story, when Jesus said to his friends, “Let’s go across to the other side.”

It sounds like good advice for us, in the wake of this week’s racial violence: Let’s go to the other side—let’s check-out what ever the other side is for each of us. The other side, where people are different from us. Black, white, Hispanic—whatever. Gay or straight. Male or female. Young or old. Let’s meet Other where they live and talk. Get better acquainted. And make peace.

There are so many bridges that need to be built, and so many boats that need to be launched—so we can get to the other side. There is so much distance between us, with all our cultural misunderstandings, economic disparity, and imbalance of power.

Somehow, we need to cross over to the other side.

Those nine people who lost their lives on Wednesday, they didn’t die because they were bad people, or because they didn’t have enough faith, or because God was absent. They died because they were in the presence of an unstable young man who was armed with fear, with hatred, with racism, and with a gun.

Let’s face it. When racial violence erupts, unleashing fear, hatred, and guns, then all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put Humpty together again.

The mission of Christianity—a mission we dare not shirk—involves replacing the hatred, fear, and racism with God’s own love.

God of every race and nation,
we ask you to guide the people of this land,
in the ways of justice and peace;
that we may honor you,
and one another,
and serve the common good.

How Long Will You Grieve?

In the Biblical story of King Saul, there comes a point when the Lord God resolves to replace Saul as king of Israel.

The Lord needed the priest, Samuel, to locate and anoint David, but Samuel was still upset about the failure of King Saul. Finally, the Lord asked Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul?”

How long will you grieve? What an odd question.

But it’s not as rude as we might think. You see, it wasn’t like Samuel was an especially close friend or family of King Saul.

The reality was that Samuel had been a key player in putting Saul on the throne in the first place, and Samuel felt like Saul’s failure was his own failure. Samuel had all his hopes and dreams for Israel riding on the success of King Saul. But it didn’t work out.

Samuel’s dreams crashed when Saul failed as king. But God had other plans. There was no time for Samuel to sulk and grieve over his own lost dreams.

Let’s face it. Sometimes you and I are stymied, far too long, over certain losses and disappointments. The loss of a job; the loss of an opportunity; or maybe something didn’t go the way we planned; or something else bruised our ego.

I wonder if sometimes God wants to say to you and me, “It’s time to move on now. How long will you be immobilized over what has happened in the past? Let go of that grief.”

The truth is, God walks with us when it’s time to move forward.

It is encouraging to remember that in spite of Samuel’s lifetime of devotion and service to God, and his experience with listening to God and following the Lord, still, sometimes Samuel hesitated and had trouble moving forward—just like you and me.

Even though we follow God as faithfully as possible, we too get bogged down, and we may have trouble moving into that next phase, or taking the next step, because we don’t know exactly how it will all turn out.

In 2 Corinthians Paul reminds us that “We walk by faith, not by sight.” God sees where every road leads, even when we can barely see the next step.

I understand that the African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of more than 30 feet. Yet these magnificent animals can be kept in an enclosure using only a 3-foot high wall.

You see, the impalas will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will land.

Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see, and with faith we are able to move forward, even when we cannot see how things will turn out.

“We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Thanks be to God. Amen.

THIS show of power will surprise you . . .

How can you expect me to forgive them?

Few experiences in life hurt us more than betrayal at the hands of family or someone else we trust–it’s almost too much to forgive. In the Old Testament, Joseph experienced that kind of betrayal.

Jacob doted excessively on Joseph, his favorite and youngest of twelve sons. Remember the coat of many colors that Jacob gave to Joseph? And it wasn’t just the fancy coat. Joseph was indulged and spoiled, and his father made no attempt to hide his favoritism.

But I doubt that Joseph knew he was spoiled. What young person knows it? And what adult will admit that we are privileged beyond what is fair. It’s quite rare, for people of privilege to recognize our unfair advantage. We might not have created the advantage, but it’s there.

handswblack515We see it all the time–the unfair advantages related to racial injustice, inequity in pay and employment opportunities, and in so many other instances, when one person or group of people–or even a nation–is advantaged over others. Even if the advantage is a result of birth or other circumstances beyond our control, as it was for Joseph, that unfair advantage takes its toll.

It’s no surprise that Joseph’s brothers felt tremendous jealousy and anger in response to Joseph’s favorite-son status. In fact, they wanted to kill  him–but decided to sell him into slavery instead. Joseph was taken by slave traders to Egypt where he ended up as a servant in Pharaoh’s household.

From favorite son to Pharaoh’s slave at the hands of his own brothers. What could be a more bitterly unfair betrayal?

We all know that life is not always fair. Just this week, we are reminded of how pernicious and unfair life can be:

  • Robin Williams
  • Ebola
  • Gaza, the Ukraine, Iraq
  • Children at the U.S. border
  • The community of Ferguson, Missouri
  • . . . the list seems endless, today.

Injustice exists–it thrives in the world today. As Christians, it’s how we respond to injustice that sets us apart from so many others. How we respond speaks volumes about what we believer about our selves, others, and God. Sometimes we have the power and the wherewithal to resolve injustice, to make things right. But too often, resolution is not within our sphere of influence.

When we cannot change that which is unfair and wrong, sometimes we take a page out of the life of Jesus and try doing what he did. Remember how Jesus got visibly angry at the inappropriate behavior of the moneychangers in the temple, the ones who cheated the people? Jesus overturned the tables and chased them off. Unfortunately, Jesus’ angry demonstration did not change the temple money-changing system; they were back the next day. But Jesus spoke-up against the unfairness.

I don’t know about you, but time and again, this week, I’ve thought, “THIS is wrong.” This is WRONG–wrong and very sad. But unlike Jesus, I have not made my opinion known in the public venue. Most of us don’t know how to respond: often we cannot and sometimes we will not. Then again, we are not Jesus. You and I rightly struggle to discern what’s the best public response to injustice and unfairness. There is no easy answer.

Joseph, in the Old Testament story, must have struggled with how to address his brothers’ betrayal. After all, they sold him into slavery and he ended up in Egypt. But then came a great famine that lasted for years. And eventually, the brothers found themselves in Egypt, too, attempting to purchase grain from Pharaoh, grain for which they must negotiate with none other than Joseph.

Joseph recognized them, but the brothers had no idea it was Joseph. When Joseph couldn’t stand it any longer, he burst out with the truth, telling the brothers that it’s him, their long-lost brother, Joseph. Instead of rejoicing with Joseph, the brothers were terrified that in his present position of power, Joseph would take this opportunity to get back at them, to get even for selling him as a slave.

But somehow that day, with his brothers before him, Joseph was able to reach beyond his own pain, beyond his memories and anger, even beyond what is fair–to the point of love and forgiveness for his brothers. Joseph was ready to forgive and move on with his life, a life that included his brothers.

Forgiveness is incredibly powerful–much more powerful than retaliation. Forgiveness transforms not only our life, when we do the forgiving, but forgiveness also has the potential to transform the life of the person we forgive.

But how do I forgive someone who is not sorry for what they did–someone who doesn’t admit they wronged me? We just DO it. We forgive.

That’s exactly what Joseph did. He forgave his brothers, though they never asked. He simply forgave them, because it was the right thing to do–and it gave him back his family.

In the long run, forgiving is not something we do because we must. Forgiving is not something we do for the other person’s sake. We forgive for our own benefit. Through forgiveness, we remove our self from the role of victim. When we forgive, we at least have a chance at mending the rift and becoming brothers and sisters. When we forgive, we free our self from that wrong and we can move on to incredible freedom.

Actually, Jesus did not suggest that in the face of every injustice we should overturn the tables in the heat of anger. The scripture implores us to be on the side of the poor and the oppressed and Jesus showed us what true advocacy looks like: Loving the Lord God with all our heart, mind and spirit—and loving our neighbor as our self.

Jesus also said that we should always, always . . . FORGIVE.

In a world that is so overflowing with jealousy, selfishness and anger, we pray that Christians will demonstrate a Christ-like response in today’s most precarious situations. Sometimes our response will include the modern-day equivalent of overthrowing the tables in the temple. Often our Christ-like response will simply be to turn the other cheek. But always, ALWAYS we are called-on to forgive.

After all is said and done, it is forgiveness that makes things right, and it is forgiveness that restores peace and family relationships.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it – always.”  – Mahatma Gandhi

It’s NOT about correct BELIEF . . .

embracing-an-adult-faithMarcus Borg says, “Being Christian is not very much about believing in the sense of believing the right things, even though the notion that it is about believing a set of teachings or doctrines is widespread. That is a relatively recent distortion of Christianity.”

Read more about “What IS a Christian.

Borg says that Christianity is not about “right beliefs.” It is about a change of heart. 

What do YOU think it means to be Christian?

What do YOU think makes a person a Christian?

I invite your comments.