Sermon by Pastor Dan Woodman
LET GOD BE GOD
Who among us is uncomfortable with NOT being in charge of our daily life; of not being in control? Who among us thinks we are in control? We pretty much all do, right? That is until something happens when we realize we are not in control at all, and that we were simply fooling ourselves. We like to think we are captains of our own ship, masters of our own personal universe until we realize that is not the case. We are not the ones driving this car. All of us have had this realization at one time or another. But here’s the thing. Something happens to you that is out of your control. Let’s say it’s a job loss. Through no fault of your own your company was sold, and your services are no longer required. All this time you’ve been going along, doing your thing, and suddenly everything is different. This kind of thing is very disorienting. What had been normal is suddenly not. We do our best to come back to normalcy because that is what we need. So, you get a new job, even a better job, you’re in control again, and boom, you trip going down the stairs, tear your ACL, and are laid up for the next six weeks. These kinds of things happen to us all the time, but in our search for being in control, do we learn from the times we are not? Speaking for myself, not so much. Maybe it’s some kind of instinct for self-preservation but for me, pretty soon after the crisis is done, I’m back to thinking I’m in charge again. Why don’t we learn? Why don’t I learn? One thing that has become increasingly clear to me as I’ve gotten older is that I cannot control the external forces in my life, but I can control how I react to them. To qualify that, I can try to control how I react to them. It’s still pretty hard to let go. It’s taken me a long time, and a lot of banging my head against the wall but at least I can see now how I should react when life happens. Like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.”
Thinking about our Exodus story today, Moses was simply doing his thing. He was working for his father-in-law doing the best he could to do a good job. He was pretty much in control when, boom! There in his path is this bush that is on fire, but not being burning up. I found a pretty cool picture of what that might look like for the bulletin cover. And, then the voice, “Moses! Moses!” Can you imagine what that might be like if God were calling your name?! I think most of us would react pretty much the same way as Moses: freaking out. Moses’ life changed forever that day. He was given his marching orders (quite literally). I suppose he could have said no but who is going to do that?! He gave up control of what had been a pretty normal life and became the most important leader in the history of Israel. He turned it over. Despite the daunting job God had assigned to him, he let go of the controls, let God work through him, and make a difference. He let God be God as he became the agent for God’s plan. He worked from the human side, and, leaning on God’s guidance, did what he was able to do. In giving up his human control he took the risk. He turned it over. Taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep was in the rear view mirror as his life (and the lives of the Israelites) changed forever. So, here’s a question. Where is the burning bush in your life? Where is God trying to break through to you? Where is God calling your name? And, what are you going to do about it? I think we all have burning bush moments but most of the time we are too busy, too distracted, too overwhelmed, trying too hard to be in control, that we miss them. We miss what God is trying to break through to us. I’m reminded of an old joke. Maybe you’ve heard it. There is a flood and the faithful church going man goes up on his roof, confident that God will save him. A rescue boat comes by to pick him up. He says, “No thanks, God will save me.” They leave and as the water gets higher a helicopter comes by and lowers a ladder. “No thanks,” he says, “God will save me.” The man drowns. He appears before God and says angrily, “Where were you? I trusted you to save me!” God says, “Don’t blame me! Where were you when I sent the boat to get you? Where were you when I sent the helicopter?” When we close ourselves off, for whatever reason, we miss out on opportunities. So, how do we become aware of the burning bushes in our lives? How do we make sure not to miss those God moments? I think, for starters, we think a little less about ourselves, and a little more about our neighbors. That was the problem for the poor man on the roof. We can’t always control what happens to us but we sure can control how we react to it. Paul tells us what we can do very succinctly in our Romans reading today. “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor…Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” These things are our call. These things are how we are to be when we are challenged by life. This is how we get through; by supporting each other. We can’t control the forces of nature like Hurricane Harvey. But, we can sure make a difference by contributing to the needs of the saints and extending hospitality to strangers by giving generously to our hurricane relief fund special offering today. That is something we can control. That is something we should control. Paul goes on to tell us about other things over which we can exert control. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.” These are things we can control. Don’t try to exact your own revenge. “That’s my job,” says God. If your enemies are hungry, feed them. By the way, that whole “heaping of burning coals” on their head thing? I know that sounds really strange but it was a figure of speech back then that simply says acts of kindness toward your enemy might make them feel ashamed and maybe even remorseful. “Do not be overcome with evil (which we may have no control over) but overcome evil with good (which we most definitely do have control over).” And, just for a little gospel reinforcement, where did Paul come up with these suggestions? Look no farther than Sermon on the Mount. In particular chapter five verses 1-12 in Matthew. The Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil things against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” These are the words from Jesus, echoed by Paul. These are the things we can control. We can take time out of our crazy lives to appreciate that which is heaven sent; those gifts from God with which we have been so richly blessed. This is something we can control. We can’t control the external forces in our lives but we can control how we respond to them. I’ve mentioned to you before how much I have come to appreciate the great American music genre of Bluegrass. One of my favorite bands is Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver. This is a line from one of their recent recordings. I would play it for you but there’s not enough time today. Maybe another day. The song talks about the realization that our time here is finite, and we need to be grateful for, and appreciate what we have. That is certainly something over which we can have control. The line from the song is: “I can’t add more days to my life so I’ll add more life to my days.” One way that we can add more life to our day today is by our sharing together the gift of our communion meal. I invite you this morning as we share this meal, to look at it with newness. To feel the connecting thread that binds us one to another, and to all the saints who have gone before us who have shared in this holy feast. Sometimes we can get complacent about rituals like this. We do it so often that it can lose what it is that makes it special. This, too, is something over which we have control. I’m challenging you this week that in addition to praying for your post it neighbor, that you spend some time to think about what this sacrament of communion means to you. As you receive the elements this morning we will say to you: this is the bread of life. And, this is the cup of salvation. These are pretty big, and pretty significant words. Let them sink in today. Let them motivate you to go deeper in your spiritual life. This is something that you can control. I invite you this morning to open your hearts, receive the gifts, and let God handle the rest.
Let us pray:
Holy God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference. Help us to accept the mystery that is your way, and to trust that your plan for each of us is unfolding as it is meant to be. Help us to accept that it is you who are in control, and at the same time empower us, as we are able, to respond to you and serve the needs of your kingdom. In the holy name of Jesus we pray, Amen