Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany

 Day of prayer for victims of the Asian Tsunami

Psalm 40:1-3, 16-17
I waited patiently for the Lord's help; then he listened to me and heard my cry. He pulled me out of a dangerous pit, out of the deadly quicksand. He set me safely on a rock and made me secure. He taught me to sing a new song, a song of praise to our God. May all who come to you be glad and joyful. May all who are thankful for your salvation always say, "How great is the Lord!" I am weak and poor, O Lord, but you have not forgotten me. You are my saviour and my Godó hurry to my aid!

Romans 8:38
I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love.

It doesnít make any sense

"It is just one thing after another, and none of it makes any sense at all."

That statement is one of frustration and perhaps even anger because people feel they have lost control of their lives. Their illness or accident, or series of illnesses or accidents would be almost bearable if they made some sort of sense - if there were some purpose or outcome evident.

People become frustrated and angry because things don't make sense. Sometimes they feel this way because they can't see clearly why God should let so many or such big disasters come their way. They feel that nothing good whatsoever can come out of the events that have caused so much pain and grief.

Take these as examples that many of us may have pondered over at some time. Each year hundreds of innocent people are killed or maimed by people who drink too much or drive a car at speeds they aren't able to handle, or drive carelessly. Yet often the offenders escape unscathed. That doesn't make sense.

We wonder why disasters in nature like a deadly tsunami or a bushfire or flood should cause the destruction of so much property, the loss of so many lives, leaving so many to grieve the loss of their loved ones. The pictures we have seen on our TVs over the last weeks cause us to shake our heads in disbelief in what seems to be so senseless.

Millions of unwanted infants throughout the world are destroyed through abortions, while, on the other hand, there are many fine married couples, unable to have children of their own, who would provide an excellent home for these unwanted children. Things like that don't make sense.

There are some people who seem to endure one hardship after another. They just get over one thing, when another appears on the horizon and shatters their lives once again. But there are others who live without a care for anyone or anything in the world and they get all the breaks. Nothing ever seems to go wrong for them. It doesn't make any sense!

Look at your life these past 12 months? What events in your life ended up quite differently to your expectations -
the plans for your future that were fouled up,
the tragedy that struck your life,
the illness that slowly took control.

Our thoughts turn to God - maybe he's made a slip up with our lives,
maybe he's not aware of what's going on,
maybe he doesn't know what we've got on our plate at the moment.
If he did surely he would help us?

We canít help ask the question: if God is such a loving God and such an all powerful God, why does he allow such things to happen?

The writer of psalm 147 says that God sends the snow and frost and hail
God speaks, the ice melts. God breathes, the waters flow.
If we believe that God directs the weather
that God speaks and the earth shudders
that God can calm the waves with a word
it follows then God has power over a tsunami and a bushfire.
Is it possible to take one more logical step and say that God caused these disasters?

Some people conclude that so much death and disaster is proof that there is no God. If God is so loving, so powerful and so good and does nothing to prevent tsunamis, bushfires, brain damaged babies, and youth suicide, then I donít want anything to do with such a God.
Those who believe that God is a callous tyrant have plenty of evidence to back up their belief as they watch the horrible destruction in the news broadcasts.
Even if God didnít directly make the tsunami, there are those who shake their fist at God for not doing something to stop the wave of destruction or the raging bushfire.

Sometimes in the defence of God, we are tempted to give pat simplistic answers that really arenít very helpful when people are struggling to come to terms with so much suffering in our world. Answers like Ė
"This disaster is God's will" or
" This is God's judgement on the sinfulness of those people" or
"God has sent this to test (or strengthen) our faith" or
"One day we will be able to look back and see why God has allowed this to happen". These statements are not all that helpful when we are overwhelmed by extreme pain and anguish. They donít help the suffering person who is trying to make sense of his/her pain. They only add to the conflict in their minds of how God can allow this to happen to the people he claims to love.

There is one thing that is clear. We have more questions than we have answers. There is certain hiddenness about God. There are so many things that we donít understand about the way God works.

Job was a man in the Old Testament who suffered so much. He lost everything property, home, family, even his health. When Job asked God, "Why did you make me and then let me suffer". God's answer is harsh. "Who are you to question my wisdom with your ignorant empty words? Were you there when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it? Ö Do you have all the answers?" (Job 38:23ff). This might seem to be a bit harsh but God is right. Job didnít have the capacity to understand how God created the world,
or the way God rules the forces of nature,
or the way God controls evil in the world, and neither do we.
There is so much we donít know about God and his ways. Like Job, we fall silent because God's ways are not our ways. As Paul says, "How great are God's riches! How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways?" (Rom 11:33).

We are people who like to have answers. We like to discover new ways and new ideas. We are uncomfortable with the whole notion that something is beyond our grasp. We have an acute sense of what is fair and just and what we have witnessed does not match what we would consider to be fair and just. What have these people done to deserve this kind of trouble? If we are honest we have to admit that we canít pretend that everything is all right with our faith and that we have all the answers.
We are confused,
we doubt,
we are angry,
we wish we had more answers to the questions that flood our minds.
This kind of honesty is good, because God is able to give us the help and comfort that we need.

One thing is certain, we may not understand everything about God, but he certainly understands everything about us.
I canít begin to imagine what is was like trying to hold on to and protect a child as the waves crashed with such force, only to have the child ripped from my arms and disappear into the surging blackness.
I canít begin to imagine what it would be like to hunt for that child in the chaos, the ruins and the mud, checking body after body, desperately hoping that none of them are my child.
I canít begin to imagine what it must be like to find the tiny crumpled body and then to carry the limp lifeless body through the mud and the chaos looking for someone to help, knowing that there was nothing anyone could do. The body in my arms is just one amongst the thousands buried in the mud and ruins.

I donít have any real idea what it must have been like, but I know God knows what itís like. He knows what itís like to feel the unfairness and injustice of an innocent child torn from his arms, and die as just another victim of our unjust world.

Here we see the greatest mystery of all. That God would love us so much that he was prepared to let his Son suffer such injustice at the hands of evil people is the most amazing thing ever. It is on the cross that we see the proof that God's love for us knows no limits. As we look at Jesus, we see that God isnít far away and aloof from all that is happening in our world. He came into our world of pain and injustice. He knows what pain and injustice are all about. He knows what we are going through as we experience the pain and injustice in our lives and in our world.

The question that faces us is this: can we continue to love and trust God. In pain, in suffering, in bewilderment and confusion, in sickness and in disasters, can we still trust God to be our God?
Can we love God without linking that love to the cards that are dealt out to us in life?
I guess for many of us we can keep on trusting most of the time, but occasionally something hits us that really rocks us. It strikes us so deeply that our love and trust in God is rocked. We don't have the human resources to hang on to God and to keep on trusting. Thank goodness God keeps hanging on to us. Even when our trust is low and our doubts are overwhelming God keeps on loving and keeps on holding on to us and supporting us and helping us through that crisis.

We only need to look at Christ and we see that God's love is the most valued possession we have. As we think back and all that has happened in our lives, the mistakes, the tragedies, the one thing that enables us to keep our senses is knowing that the love of God supports us through every tragedy and difficult time. It is the love of God that forgives for all our past mistakes, especially the times when we have doubted his love.
It is the love of God that we see in Jesus that assures us that God does care.

When we follow Jesus, trust Jesus, look to Jesus, cling to Jesus, even in the darkest places that our lifeís journey will take us, then we will clearly see into Godís heart and know that he is for us Ė no matter what.

Without a doubt, we struggle to make sense of the disasters that cause so much ruin and pain in our world. We canít even pretend to know why these things happen and why so many people have to suffer. It is all a part of the brokenness of creation. Sin ruined God's perfect world. Jesus came to deal with sin Ė he died and rose again for us, for the world. We and all creation look forward to that day when everything will be made new and whole again. There will be an end to all suffering and ruin.

Until that day, we have a God who promises to be our refuge and strength in times of trouble. He promises that nothing will separate us from his love. As Paul said, For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below (and we could add - neither tsunamis, bushfires, floods, cancer, nor disease) óthere is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38,39).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th January, 2005

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