Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Sermon



My son's girlfriend, Emilee, shared this video with me, I don't think she thought it would wind up here. As I saw the images and heard the words from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I had tears in my eyes as I saw the dichotomy between how Jesus envisioned the Kingdom of God and where the world is today. For many reading this blog the images are foreign to your world - that are only seen on the News or some show. For Jesus this was a daily event. His followers were made up of people, who were marginalized by the culture of His day. The religious leaders often condemned him for being with "those kind of people".


For the most part, the majority of people reading this are in their home, apartment or even sitting in a coffee shop with WiFi. We may have the occasional crisis. Maybe you forgot to charge your cell phone, maybe you thought you had more gas in your tank and now you have to fill up or you have the flu. The scenes in the video above were not from a Third World country - they were all in Los Angeles. We are a blessed people. Even many of the poor among us, now at 46% according to the Congressional Budget Office, have cable TV, cell phones and some of the comforts we take for granted. I grew up in a place that could have been juxtaposed into that video and you wouldn't have noticed. 


Occasionally, the real world breaks through our carefully insulated lives. Something happens that causes us to question - "Why"? We find out a friend has cancer, an earthquake hits a highly populated area, or a tornado hits. Here in Norther Nevada we have been hit with two events that have shaken our community, I am sure you have seen them on the news. About a week or so ago, a disturbed man walked into an IHOP Restaurant and opened up with an AK-47 on the people having breakfast. A person from our congregation was shot and wounded, the persons on each side of her were killed. The question over and over being asked was, "Why". Then this past Friday afternoon, with thousands gathered to watch the Reno Air Races, a WWII era plane crashed into a portion of the crowd. For a fairly small and close knit community these were a one/two punch.


This morning at our church's Assembly, our minister Gary Cage, had some things to say about why God allows suffering and evil in this world. Gary is a thinker and no one expects a great deal of platitudes and cliches coming from him. He has a PhD in Philosophy and he also has worked as a professor for the past thirty or so years. He asked this question:


"Why is there evil and suffering in this world?"


His answer caught be off guard. He said evil and suffering exist because  God allows and sometimes causes it. We normally  hear the trite justifications made by many well meaning Christians that evil and suffering are the work of Satan. Really? Is Satan so strong and powerful that the Sovereign God of the Universe can't stop him? Is it the free will of humankind - that some are evil? Is God not powerful enough to stop a Hitler or a Stalin? No, if we are to believe that Yahweh is truly God Almighty - we are left with the conclusion that yes, He does allow and sometimes causes these things. I have trouble getting my head around that. Go ahead and noodle on that and we will get back to the words on that video.


The Bible NEVER promises we will be free of pain, suffering and evil. It does say that there will be a group of people who have decided to stand against the grain and dedicate their lives to easing pain, caring for the suffering and standing up to those who are evil. If there had been no Hitler a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have never emerged. As a Christian he could not support the Nazi Regime. He was a prominent Pastor, Theologian and eventually a martyr. He was in the German resistance and was hanged by the Gestapo in April of 1945. We have seen people in our own age who have stood up and said, "This far no further". Martin Luther King Jr. faced impossible odds, but his faith allowed him to have a dream. Gandhi stood up to the entire British Empire with peaceful resistance. (It is said that  Gandhi read the "Sermon on the Mount" each day. When asked why he wasn't a Christian, he replied, "When I meet one, I'll become one." -- OUCH!)


My call to you this week is to realize, that yes, there is evil and suffering in the world but you can be part of the solution. The words Jesus spoke were most likely preached to various groups of people. In Matthew it is called "The Sermon on the Mount". Luke has a very similar sermon that is commonly called, "The Sermon on the Plain". I have always been drawn to Luke's account because I find it more jagged - more to the point. Here are those words from Luke's Gospel:


"And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:
"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
"Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
"Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
"Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
"Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets"
(Luke 6:20-26 - ESV)
Peace
~Al