Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People

Sermon – October 4th, 2015

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Hebrew Scripture: Job 1:1; 2:1-10

By Roland Legge

I am fascinated by the tale of Job.  The Bible tells us that he was a good and righteous man.  He followed all the religious laws.  He never spoke against God. He was good to his friends and family.  In fact Job was perfect!

Job and his contemporaries believed that God would reward the good and righteous with good health and the comforts of life.  No one doubted he was righteous because everything in life was going so well for him.  He had good health.  He had a healthy and strong family.  He was blessed with great wealth.  Life couldn’t be much better.

But then disaster strikes.  The story tells us that God had been showing off to the angel Satan.  God tells Satan how righteous Job is and that nothing, not even famine and illness, would turn Job against God.  So Satan asks for God’s permission to see if he could get Job to curse God by making him suffer terribly.   God agrees and allows Satan to test Job.  So everything in Job’s life begins to fall apart.  Life becomes a scourge of suffering and pain.  Initially, Job holds up his optimism but then moves into a place of feeling sorry for himself.

Now when we refer to Satan, he was part of the Holy Order.  His job was to report to God on the behavior of God’s people.  Satan wasn’t the enemy of God, as was believed many year later.  Satan was doing his duty by testing Job.  He was part of God’s team.

Job becomes more miserable to be around.  Eventually his family and friends begin to believe that he must be paying for some terrible sins he has committed.  But Job insists on his faithfulness to God and refuses to curse God, despite the wishes of his wife.

However, I wonder if Job’s wife deserves a little bit of credit here.  I think some of her womanly wisdom told her that if Job was going to be able to move on that he would need to let out the anger against God that she knew to be in him.  I don’t believe she was tempting him to sin but encouraging him to heal.

The story of Job was challenging the world view of the time.   The author of Job is challenging his readers to understand that blessing is not a reward for good behavior and neither is curse or punishment for sinfulness. God will do, what God will do, whether we like it or not.  We will suffer for what seems like no reason.  And often there is no reason other than being alive on this earth. At times of great blessing in our life we all need to do say thank you to God and not take any credit for it ourselves.  Sometimes we are just at the right place at the right time.

Even, with all the scientific information we have today, we still deal with blessing and curse in much the same way as Job and his contemporaries did.  How often have you caught yourself pleading to God: “What have I done to deserve this…?”  I still experience people blaming the sick for their own illnesses.  Does a person who smokes deserve to die of lung cancer more than a person who chooses to live in a large city with high amounts of smog?  Does a person living with HIV/AIDS who contracted it from their husband any more saintly than a person who caught it through a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex?  I don’t think so!

This same mindset continues on today in our economic theories. The god of capitalism, the “market” is understood/believed to act in the same way that world of Job and his contemporaries understood their God to act.  Yet many people in our country believe the same today.  The idea is that if you work hard you will benefit.  If you don’t work hard you will suffer.  So if anyone is struggling in life it must be their fault.  If you are poor then it is your fault.  If you are rich you deserve it.   We blame the victim so do we don’t have to take any responsibility for the inequities in the world.

If we really think about it Capitalism is not perfect.  Sometime it is very destructive. During last economic crisis our economies collapsed because of poor choices that were made out of greed.  It wasn’t the people in the high positions who were hurt.  It was the little guy, who paid the consequences.  It was the ordinary people like us who paid the price.

Obviously there are consequences for choices we make.  Yes a person who smokes is more likely to die of lung cancer.  Even a person who drives everywhere and never exercises probably has a higher risk of heart disease.  Yet each of us have and continue to make a mixture of choices.  There is no perfect person out there.  We all have our vices.  But the consequences of our poor choices are not punishments from God.  Many destructive things happen in our lives that are beyond our control.

The truth for me is that each of us has to take full responsibility for ourselves.  Once we are able to open our hearts again we can consciously co-create with God to help to make the world a great place to be.  To care for each other.  To celebrate and share our success in the good times and hold each other up during the hard times.  We are in this life together.  We cannot do it without each other.

The God I believe in has promised to journey with us through all the ups and downs of life.  For me God does not want us to suffer, but will help us to journey through the tough times and may even show us signs of resurrection through bringing out new life out of pain and hurt.  God will continue to bless us in ways that boggle our minds and fill our hearts with joy.

Job

Jesus Call to Heal

Sermon – September 27th 2015

18th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
James 5:13-20 
Mark 9:38-50

Jesus’ disciples are feeling good about themselves. They were a part of very important ministry with the Messiah.  How good can it get? Yet they were threatened by someone else healing in the name of God.

They tell Jesus about this impostor.  But to their surprise Jesus was not upset and says “Whoever is not against us is for us.” His followers cannot comprehend why he wasn’t upset.   Jesus has to explain to them, that as the strangers were healing in the name of Spirit, he had no issue with their ministry.  As far as Jesus was concerned the more the merrier.

Jesus demonstrated through his life that he was more concerned with what people did rather than the background of the person who did it.  So for Jesus the act had more importance than the reputation of the person who did it.  A person’s actions were far more important for Jesus than their nationality, gender, religion, color of their skin or abilities.  We still struggle with prejudice today.

Last week we were talking about what it means to be Christian.  Over the centuries people have answered this question in many ways.  Still today the challenge is for us to be open what Scripture is telling us today.

Many of us have a tendency to make God into our own image making the holy a weapon rather than a blessing. Our personal demon tricks us into thinking that we are one of the saved while the people we don’t like will go to hell.  Most of us realize that this is a too simplistic way of thinking.  Yet it still hard to motivate ourselves to risk turning our belief systems upside down.

For me the miracle is that our inspired Scriptures have new things to say to each new generation.  Our Scripture reminds us that we believe in a God of surprises who keeps challenging our prejudices.  Much to our annoyance there is no place that the Creators love cannot go!  The only person we can hold responsible is our selves.

What do we do when we have no person, religion, nationality or belief system to blame?  So for example instead of blaming Muslims, or some other groups, we need to look at ourselves.  We all have shadow sides, that part of us which can be mean, close minded, exclusive and demeaning.  Whether or not we want to admit it we all have it.  The question is are we able to acknowledge that part of ourselves so we can be free from it.  Are we able to allow God’s love to shine on our hurts, anger and greed so they can be transformed into generosity and love?   I believe that with the Creator’s help through each of us we can be changed people building people up rather than tearing them down.

James reminds us that our heart is changed when we to get to know people who we do not feel comfortable with, such as people of the Muslim faith.  I think we would find just as many amazing Muslims as Christians in the world.

The Spirit has shown me the goodness in so many people from all walks of life.  Sometimes it has taken longer than I would like to see people in the eyes of God.  What helped to change my way of thinking was getting to know people I had up to then looked down upon.

In fact James shows us how important hospitality is for our faith.   We are here on this earth to care for each other through prayer, helping each other out in tangible ways, encouraging each other through the hard times and challenging each other through the good times.

The only way we can care for each other is by really knowing each other.  How well do you know each member of our congregation?  Why is it such a challenge for so many congregations to take the time to get to know each other well?  Imagine if a new person arrived in our congregation.  How are we to get to know each other if we don’t create time for this to happen.

James wants us to do more than hospitality.  He wants us to create a healing ministry.  Jesus spent much of his time healing those who were suffering.  Healing begins to happen when we take time to be with a hurting person.  When we risk touching a person by shaking hands, hugging, and just being in their midst barriers are broken.  When we participate in the ancient rituals of anointing a person with oil, sharing prayer and invoking the spirit through the laying on of hands there is transformation.  When we really listen to another person’s story and share our own we become closer.  When we help a person out in need not only with our time and attention but with our physical resources fear is released.

For me there is a big difference between healing and curing.  When we participate in the healing ministry we can make no promises other than the Spirit will be with us.  I believe that we will be healed in some way.  But it may not be the way we would like the healing to happen.  Yes extraordinary healings do happen with cancer being there one minute and gone the next.

But more often the miracle is a change of heart.  It might be a family coming back together in forgiveness.  It might mean discovering what their life is really about and taking whatever time they have left to live out their life mission.  Healing comes in many ways.  It is a gift to be welcomed.  It is the knowledge that God loves each of us unconditionally.  Whether we are cured or not is no determination of the efficacy of the healing.  It simply is.

Thank you Jesus for showing us the way.  God’s love for each of us is much broader than any person could comprehend.  So let us learn from Jesus and welcome each person we meet, knowing they are a person of God.  Let us celebrate with Jesus as the walls crumble and we are reminded that we are all part of a great family.  Whenever we do something that enhances God’s creation, no matter how small or big, God is celebrating saying well done good and faithful steward.images

What is this Jesus Really About!

Sermon – September 20th 2015

By Roland Legge

Proverbs 31:10-31 
James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
Mark 9:30-37

What does it mean for you to be a Christian?  Right from the beginning the Disciples struggled with what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.  In today’s reading from Mark the Disciples do not want to hear what Jesus had to say.  They are still living in denial.   They want Jesus to be the great leader who will fix their problems.  They want him to fix their problems without them having to make any changes.  What are your expectations of Jesus?

I have a lot of sympathy for the Disciples.  Jesus was asking a lot of them.  But what I love about Jesus is that he invited them to join him.  He used no coercion. He lays everything out so there are no surprises.  If people are to follow him they must be willing to turn their lives around and put their faith into the love of God.  They must put wisdom of God before anything else.  They must be willing to find strength in vulnerability.  They must be willing to mix with those on the edges of society who are living in poverty, violence and all forms of abuse.  Jesus was challenging them to walk their talk.

It is ironic that the first people who really understood what Jesus was about were the people who were threatened by him such as Pilot.  So why was it that the people who were trying to kill him understood who he was while the Disciples who followed him did not?  I think they understood because they could grasp the huge cost the Jesus movement was going to have on, them.   It took Jesus disciples a long time before they fully understood.  They didn’t get it until well after Jesus death and resurrection.

Jesus struggles to get our attention today.  Many of us don’t want to hear what he has to say.  We like the disciples, metaphorically, don’t want to get our hands dirty.  We want someone else to fix our problems.  But yet Jesus never gives up on us.  He keeps calling us to true discipleship.  He does without judgement always hoping that one day we will be ready to be transformed.

Are we ready to be transformed?  Are we ready to be born again?  There is nothing magical about this process.  It is all about finding the Christ self, our higher self within us.  The Christ self is a gift from God and we all have within us.

There are many ways to access the higher power within us.  It is always helpful to quiet our minds so the Spirit can mold us.   Reading scripture in community can help us to discern our call to heal the world.  For me the Enneagram is a great tool to reveal our Christ self because it helps us to release behaviours that are not of service to the world. It helps us to see the difference between our egos, our fake selves, with our truth that comes from wisdom and true presence.  Presence coming from when we are able to release all our insecurities, greed, fear and hopelessness and fill that void with the love of God.

The Good News is that we don’t have to wait for anyone else to join us in our mission to transform the world.   One person can begin to make a huge difference just by changing the way they act.  In Systems theory it shows us that one person can begin to affect change in any organization by acting in ways that they expect their colleagues to act.  One person, destructively acting out, can show us where the organizational system is not healthy by asking these question.  Where is their discord?  Where in the organization are people not having their needs met.  Where in the organization are the members not being heard and respected?  Often once these problems are resolved the person will ether change their behaviour or leave.  Have you ever experienced this?

What will be most surprising are the people who we will meet on our faith journey. Sometimes they will be the people we least expect.  Maybe a person from another faith will want to join us.  Maybe it will be wealthy business person who is wanting to make the world a better place.  Maybe it will be a person who has a criminal record who is eager to help.  God has called us all to transformation, are we ready to receive those who are hungry for experiencing the Kingdom of God?

How are we at we at Foam Lake United Church trying to transform the world.  Individually many of you volunteer in our community.  Know that your dedication really does make a difference. But what are we doing as a congregation?

There are people in our community who are eager to make a difference in the world.  I believe that part of our mission is to invite community members to join us in some community mission that will do something positive for our community and world such as services for children and young families, cleaning up the environment, ending prejudice, building relationships with first nation brothers and sisters. This would strengthen our community, giving us a purpose and encourage those in our community who are looking for a spiritual home where they get to live out their faith.  A place where people get to make a difference.

When we allow our maker to engage us in ministry our lives are changed for ever.  The things that used to bother us are no longer giving us sleepless nights.  We no longer worry who is better or worse than us.  We no longer worry about who is good and who isn’t good.  We no longer worry about who has the right doctrine because we are living out our faith.  We no longer worry about having enough money because we will receive whatever we need to do God’s work because of the Creators abundance that there is enough for all. We no longer need someone else to tell us what to believe because our faith is now etched in our hearts.  You cannot help but know what we believe by what we do and say.

While being a follower of Jesus is not easy.  It also brings us great joy and purpose in life that nothing else can replace.  It is what guides us in what we choose to do.  It gives us amazing community to help us celebrate life and people to help us through the rough times.  It gives us a safe environment to grow beyond our personality.  It brings us together with other people to make the world a better place.  Most importantly it helps us all around the world to come together in peace, love, justice and harmony. To be the new world wide community of love, justice, generosity, and hope that both nurtures people and all of the Created order on this planet and throughout our galaxy.

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Mother Wisdom: A Call to Transformation

Sermon – September 13th 2015

16th Sunday after Pentecost

By Roland Legge

Hebrew Scripture:  Proverbs 1:20-33

Epistle: James 3:1-12

Gospel: Mark 8:27-38

 

What does wisdom mean for you?  Today we read about Wisdom in the book of Proverbs.  Wisdom is personified as female energy.   Wisdom comes to us through the Spirit within us.  Wisdom is about equality. Wisdom is about resolving conflict non-violently. Wisdom calls upon us to listen to our hearts.  Wisdom calls upon us to think carefully.  Wisdom calls upon us to treat each other as we would treat ourselves.  Wisdom is always calling upon us to listen with our wholes selves.

We would all be better off if we would pay more attention to Mother Wisdom.  James expresses in his epistle, that same desire, to call upon the Christian Community to live more peacefully with each other.  James is calling upon people to be careful what they say.  James is calling upon his people to only speak in ways that build up rather than tear down.  James new that words can hurt.  Words can destroy people, churches, communities, and nations.  We too can learn from James because I believe there is just as much negative and destructive behaviour in our churches and communities today as there was in Jesus day.

Jesus had a very strong relationship with Mother Wisdom.  Through his deep encounter with the Spirit, throughout his life, he was able to see a path to restoring the world to the way that God had intended.   Jesus was trying to explain his mission to his disciples in today’s passage.

This was to be a mission that would transform the world from its ugly ways of violence, manipulation and the abuse of power to one of love, respect and justice for all.  Peter couldn’t believe his ears, because he knew that this non-violent path could have Jesus killed and maybe him too.  So Peter rebukes him!  But Jesus does not give up.  He knows that his followers were looking for a great king, like David, who would bring them a great military victory.  Jesus new his ways were revolutionary!

Jesus new he was a very different leader that comes from a very different premise of strength through vulnerability.  The cross became the symbol of strength through vulnerability. This is still a radical idea for our day.  We still think we can solve the world’s problems through our armies.  But history shows that wars are far from perfect.  They usually don’t resolve the conflict in the long run.

For us Christians the cross has become a very powerful symbol.  However, most of us have forgot what the cross was really about.  This is a symbol of suffering.  Dying on a cross was one of the worst ways to die.  It would be extremely painful!  Jesus new that in order to reclaim the world for God would require suffering.  He knew that the old ways of being that gave power to the few would not change easily.  If we are to follow Jesus we must be open to some form of suffering.

Jesus is not saying that God wants us to suffer.  But God knows that if we are to transform the hearts of the most greedy and violent people we must be willing to make sacrifices.  Some people might say that we must be willing to bear our cross. For some it will be an early death, but for the majority of us it will come through harassment, shaming, abuse, embarrassment, and other forms of demeaning.

No one can force us to bear our cross.  Bearing our cross is always a choice.  Bearing our cross is about transforming the world. So suffering that comes from parts of our life we cannot control such as domestic abuse is not bearing our cross.  Here is one story of women choosing to bear their cross.  Bill D Strayhorn shares this story:

Some women who live near Washington D.C. wanted to show God’s love to a special group of people.  They heard about a group of babies who were rarely held and destined to live and die in hospitals because they had A.I.D.S.  The babies didn’t get much attention, so they began to cry silently. No one had responded to their crying out loud so they stopped doing it.  But they still shed tears.

Even though these children would die by their second birthdays, the women took a number of the A.I.D.S. babies’ home.  The women would respond to the silent tears by holding and rocking the babies.  Soon these unloved, cast-off A.I.D.S. babies began to cry out loud again.  They had been spoken to in the only way they could understand. They had been spoken to in the language of love by women willing to deny themselves and take up their cross.

Billy D. Strayhorn Ministry Matters

The Good News is that when we say yes to the cross we don’t have to do this alone.

This is why for me why our faith communities are so important.  We need each other to do the work of the Creator.  We need to support and encourage each other.  We need each other to hold each of us accountable e.g. are we following through on our work.  We need each other to ensure that we all take care of ourselves so we have the good health to keep doing this important ministry.  We need each other to worship and play so as to keep the spirit alive in each of us.

As James keeps reminding us that faith without good works is useless.  So what cross do you choose to bear?   How are you trying to make the world a healthier and just place for all of Creation?  How are you trying to love those on the fringes who are often ignored or taken advantage of?   How are you trying to love your neighbour? How are you working on this with your congregation and community?

This is not to say we should not enjoy life. Jesus loved to have a good time.  Remember when he changed water into wine at a wedding.  Celebrating life together help us to recharge our batteries.  The wonder is that when we are able to experience hopelessness then we can truly appreciate joy.

I invite us all to reflect on why you call yourself a Christian.  For you what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?  How would you answer James when he asks you how you are living out your faith in the world?  What crosses have you chosen to bear?  What crosses are you being called to bear in the future?

May God continue to bless you on this journey.mother Earth-1