Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How Then Do We Live?

This week's scriptures are Genesis 6: 5-22 and Matthew 7: 13-29.

If you take a look at the titles of the blogs for the last couple of weeks you'll see a conversation taking place with myself (and hopefully with you):

"What Does God Think of Us?" is followed by the question "If God Cares So Much, Then How Come....?" This is a basic question that has troubled humankind for centuries. Whether you ask it as "how can a loving God allow suffering?" or "why do bad things happen to good people?" or in more painful, deeply personal ways (I will leave you to speak your own) it is a set of questions-and answers-that will shape our responses to the world around us.

According to some geological theories, about 12,000 years ago, toward the end of the Ice Age, glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere began to melt. Oceans and seas grew deeper. About 7,000 years ago the Mediterranean Sea's waters pushed northward slicing through what is now Turkey and flooded into the Black Sea with 200 times the force of Niagra Falls.

Seared into the memories of terrified survivors, the tale of the flood was passed down through generations; from the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic on into the Hebrew Scriptures account of Noah.

I read an interesting comment while preparing for Sunday's sermon. It isn't a pretty comment, but it rings true to me. The writer said that we've taken a story of terror and turned it into a cute little story about animals coming two by two. The truth, he pointed out, was that Noah looked over the ship's railing at the bloated corpses of animals and people floating in a scene of absolute devastation.

Talk about being overwhelmed. And yet...and yet each day, Noah sent out a bird. It wasn't a big thing to do. It wasn't some great act. He turned a bird lose. He committed a small, single act of faith in God's promise that this wasn't the end...that there was more to come...that God would, in fact, live up to God's word.

It is easy for you and me to feel overwhelmed as well. For me, accounts of 38,000 cases of PTSD resulting so far from the Iraq war; the tragedies in China and Myanmar; and the brutal violence in Zimbabwe are mind numbing. When I add to those stories the ones I hear closer to home from both victims and perpetrators of abuse; from those suffering from physical illnesses who are denied insurance coverage; the requests for help with food and electricity.....

Jesus talked about this at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. He said, "Everyone who hears these words and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house..." Can you relate so far? I sure can. But listen to the rest: "...but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock."

Now I've got some other things I want to add to this on Sunday; but for now, I want to point out that being "founded on the rock" looks a lot like what we talked about on this past Sunday when we explored "living in trust" as opposed to "living for security." It isn't that we're not afraid, or that we don't have issues to deal with. It's that we do the little things. Like Noah, we 'send out a bird.' We commit small acts of faith in God's promises, based on what Jesus has taught us about what God is like....'everyone who listens and acts, builds on the rock.' The action may be small. It isn't the size of the act, but the direction we take it in.

What 'bird' will you send out this week? Will you respond to Joann's request and write a letter to Zimbabwe? Will you make a contribution to relief aid somewhere? Will you live today in hope...despite what your past may have been? Maybe you'll plant your garden..and that beauty will be your statement in the face of all that is destruction. All of these may be 'birds' that we send out from the deck of our life's ship into the face of the overwhelming turbulence we see. Acts of faith that God loves us and all creation; and that this love will speak the final word.

Oh...a hint about Sunday...if you look at this scripture, ask yourself: 'what was the first thing Jesus did after talking about listening and doing in imitation of Him as building on the rock?'

Hope to see you Sunday.


Anonymous said...

After reading the scripture from Matthew, I'm reminded of a question that comes up every now and then in my mind - why is the road narrow? Or, put another way, why don't more people follow the ideas Jesus suggests here? The answer(s) may be similar to why we are sometimes inconsiderate and why we are sometimes so altruistic as seen in our large and small behaviors/choices. I was talking with one of my brothers about this the other day, and it was easy to find things we both did to others and to each other in the past 24 hours that fell into these categories. But we couldn't really figure out why we chose to behave as we did. Instead, we had to accept the fact that small things (like Stephen points out here) can have tremendous impact and control (!) over others, whether we like it or not, intentional or not. Maybe the road is narrow because it is a parade of small things/behaviors/ideas that ultimately are of greater importance to how we interact and live with one another.

Anonymous said...

I love the images in this weeks sermon and in Jeremy's response. When all the problems in the world/our lives seem daunting, "sending out a bird" seems a fairly simple yet encouraging tasks. And just naming our efforts as such seem to give them credence. Maybe a perceived failed attempt is just a bird that has yet to return with that sign of life.

And I also love Jeremy's image of a "parade of small things"; we don't have to be perfect all at once - we can make changes and contributions in increments.

I'm going to take a stab at the hint for Sunday. The first thing Jesus does after his sermon is he heals a leaper and tells him to go make an offering to the temple. He sent out his own bird and told the man to basically send one out too. So perhaps he's saying that the way to build your house on a rock is to help others and make offerings in faith/as a witness.