Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 
(Proper 19)

Text: Psalm 116:2b-7
The danger of death was all around me; the horrors of the grave closed in on me; I was filled with fear and anxiety. Then I called to the Lord, "I beg you, Lord, save me!" The Lord is merciful and good; our God is compassionate. The Lord protects the helpless; when I was in danger, he saved me.  Be confident, my heart, because the Lord has been good to me.

Be confident because the Lord is good.

The face of the man was worn and downcast. You could see the load that he was bearing was ever so heavy. His wife would never be able to walk on her own again. The stroke had paralysed her. Her speech was slurred. She was totally dependent on others. Anxiously he said,
"She had been such a healthy person. Why did this happen to her? Wouldn’t it have been kinder to have let her die than face years living like this?
What am I going to do? She has been the one who has always cared for me. I guess I’ll have to learn to be the carer. But what a way to learn! Yes, I guess all I can do is hope and trust in the Lord. I have nothing else".

There are those who deny the existence of God. But for those who believe in a loving God, there are times when the events in our lives go against everything we have believed about God. Life might be going well for us, when a sudden turn of events makes us question with those many others who have gone before us,
"Why have you let this happen, Lord?
If you love me, how could you hurt me in this way? Why? Why? Why? Lord!"

Whether you yourself are hurting or someone who is close to you, there appears to be a striking inconsistency between God's love and the agony in the lives of those whom he loves.

The small word "why" has been used extensively as the media has reflected on the September 11 terrorist attack or the Bali bombing. Others may have asked the question "why" when the founder of a hospital for lepers and his two young sons were killed in India or when innocent children are cruelly treated, even murdered by a parent.

When we are faced with sudden illness and surgery, the normal thing to do is to ask, "Why me?"
Sometimes we are faced with decisions we would rather not face and we ask, "Why me God, why not someone better qualified, someone who wants the job, someone who is not as busy as I am?"

When we ask "why" (by the way, there is nothing wrong with asking this sort of question) we are confused about God's part in our troubles. This confusion may go something like this.
"I know you love me, Lord, but right now I don’t really feel loved. I know that you are fully aware of what I’m going through – the hurt and the pain – and I know that you have the power to do something about it but why does it seem that you aren’t doing something to help me. After all, I am one of your children through holy baptism, so why is it that I see so little evidence of your fatherly love and mercy right at this moment when I need it the most".

Why does it seem that God is ever so slow in responding to the situation in which we find ourselves?

Maybe the apostle Paul asked that question as he went through every trial and trouble imaginable. I know that if I were in his shoes I would be tempted to ask, "Lord why am I in jail now? What good can I do here? Why am I sitting here in this damp dungeon when I could be out telling others about Jesus? Why don't you do something about it?

Paul didn't understand all of God's ways; in fact, I know that for sure because we hear him asking God to get rid of what he called a "thorn in the flesh". This had plagued him for years and wanted to be free from it. But God had other plans.

Paul wrote this to the Romans. "How great are God's riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways?  As the scripture says, "Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to give him advice? … For all things were created by him, and all things exist through him and for him. To God be the glory forever! Amen."

The knowledge and understanding that we have of our world is increasing at an enormous rate. The Internet can give us instant access to all kinds of knowledge. Scientists are increasing their understanding many times over as they explore nature and how it works. The knowledge that doctors have about the things that threaten our health is growing every day. But there are still boundaries to human understanding. The apostle realises there are some things that we will never know about God and his ways. His wisdom and knowledge are beyond human reckoning. He is God after all, and that means his understanding of our lives and why the events that happen every day turn out the way they do, is far superior to any of our reasoning and logic.

There comes a point where all human analysis and reckoning must end, and we must simply put our trust in the wisdom and love of God. As clever as we might think we are, even our minds cannot comprehend the fullness and the greatness and the might and wisdom of God that defy all human description. We need to get it into our small brains that God and his will cannot be all neatly tucked up in our human definitions and explanations. There will always be a hiddeness about God's ways as long as we are on this earth.

In today’s text from Psalm 116 we hear of the writer talking about how he was surrounded by the dangers of death and he was filled with fear and anxiety. He describes how he felt completely crushed under the weight of his suffering, and felt alone and abandoned as death closed in on him. In the end he makes this wonderful statement, "The Lord is merciful and good; our God is compassionate. The Lord protects the helpless; when I was in danger, he saved me. Be confident, my heart, because the Lord has been good to me. … I will give you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and offer my prayer to you. … Praise the Lord! (verses 5-8, 17, 18b).

How then can we praise God, as the psalmist did, in spite of the lack of answers to our many questions about the events in our lives? Praise is still possible. Although we are finite and limited creatures, we are still important in God's sight. We may not understand God's ways and his reasons for allowing certain unpleasant things to disrupt our lives, there is still one point where we can appreciate God's will for us and his love for us. We see this in his Son, Jesus. Paul says to the Romans,  "God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!" (Rom 5:8).
Even though there is so much mystery surrounding God and his ways;
even though we ask the question "why" so often,
we can be sure about this one thing – the love of God for each one of us. He would not have sent his only Son to die on the cross if he did not love us.

And because he loves us we can trust his wisdom. We can rest assured that he knows what is best for us at any moment in our lives. We may not be able to see it at the time, we may feel as if God has deserted us, but we can be confident God wants only the best for those whom he loves.

Would you want to deliberately harm those whom you love? Of course not! Neither does God.
Even though it appears that pain and suffering have the upper hand;
even though we may begin to doubt God's loving concern for our well-being;
and even if it means that I leave this life,
we can trust that his love and superior wisdom control his plans for our lives. We can be confident that he will never give up on us and will always do what is best for us.

I realise that this is often hard to take. Especially when we are suddenly faced with the prospect of a terminal illness or the death of someone we have loved dearly. Of course this is not something we would have planned or wished. It's not wrong to question God in times of stress, and God knows what pressure all of this is placing on us. But finally there comes a time when we need to ask God in prayer, as the psalmist did, to help us trust that God loves us.

Satan likes to make the most of our misery and drive a wedge of doubt and disbelief between God and us. Our questions of "why" may lead us to distrust the love of God and whether God has any concern for us at all. We will never know all the answers to our questions, but there is no doubt about the love, mercy and compassion of God. In the middle of a tough time we might not always see it or appreciate it, but rest assured God has not moved one centimetre away from us. In fact, he is closer than ever - ready to answer our call for help.

In conclusion, let’s read together some verses from Psalm 116 and share in the writer’s confidence and joy in knowing that regardless of the situation we find ourselves we have a God who merciful and compassionate.

I love the Lord, because he hears me;
he listens to my prayers.
He listens to me every time I call to him.
The danger of death was all around me;
the horrors of the grave closed in on me;
I was filled with fear and anxiety.
Then I called to the Lord, "I beg you, Lord, save me!"
The Lord is merciful and good;
our God is compassionate.
The Lord protects the helpless;
when I was in danger, he saved me.
Be confident, my heart, because the Lord has been good to me.
The Lord saved me from death;
he stopped my tears and kept me from defeat.
And so I walk in the presence of the Lord in the world of the living.
I will give you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and offer my prayer to you.
Praise the Lord!

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
14th September, 2003
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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