Sermon for Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mark 4:35-41

“God Save Us!  Are We Controlled Marionettes Or Emancipated Individuals?”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Sermon Podcast (partial – I’m sorry folks!  I don’t know what happened!):  120624SermonPodcastPartial

To view the video cast, click here:

The question for the day is, “If God really cares, why doesn’t God do anything about my problems, or the problems of the world?”  Another way to ask this is, “If there is a God, why is this world so messed up?”

They are fair questions.  If someone learns that we worship the God of the universe, the one who created all things and works through all things, isn’t it reasonable that this God will be active in the affairs of human beings in order to make things work better, come out right and good, especially for those who follow God and keep God’s commandments?  Shouldn’t it concern someone who is considering Christianity as a faith to follow that some of the folks who pray the most suffer the most?  That some of the folks who are the purest and finest examples of Christ virtue confront the most tragedy?  Why would I want to follow God or God-In-Christ if I can’t be assured things will turn out all right?

If you turn to scripture, the point seems to be made ad naseum!  From the crafting of creation like an artist and God walking around in the Garden like a landscaper, to Jesus healing the sick, exorcising demons, rebuking the wind and calming the seas – our holy text seems to be built on an intense involvement of the divine in the course of human history.  Throughout scripture God, and Jesus, clearly intervenes in the natural world and changes the way things would otherwise inherently turn out.

But not for us.  At least, not for me.  I get sick at the most inopportune times, and pray for God to make me well, and I’m still sick.  My loved one dies, regardless of the heartfelt petitions I offer for protection and healing.  I get fired, lose my car, betray a friend, fail a test, and, most especially, never win the lottery.  No amount of prayers seem to make life like the scene on that boat on the Sea of Galiliee (presumably) where Jesus wakes up, looks out, and commands the trauma to stop, the storm to be still, the problems to go away, and for peace to reign in the lives of his disciples.

The doctrine I’m struggling with (and I suspect you do, too) is called “divine providence.”  Divine providence maintains that not only did God fashion creation, but cares for it and actively preserves it, guides it, oversees it.

But, truthfully, it feels more like a fairy tale.  This idea of God’s divine providence makes God, or even Jesus, a bit like a fairy godmother, who flits in and out of life seemingly randomly healing this person or preventing that natural disaster, with as many opportunities missed as prevented.  I think of Cinderella, where the poor girl, beset by woe because of the mistreatment of her stepmother and stepsisters, dreams of going to the ball to meet the handsome prince, and suddenly not only does the Fairy Godmother swish her magic wand to sew dresses and create carriages complete with footmen, but all the animals get into the act, holding ribbons for the dress and cleaning up the house so she can go to the ball.  Once all the shenanigans are over, Cinderella gets her handsome prince and rides off to the magic castle.  Even in the modern interpretations, such as the Shrek series, which put some funny reality into it, the magical solving of problems is still there.

Honestly, scripture seems like a fairy tale.  Never does this work for me.  Oh, good things come to me, but never in a way that seems even remotely as a response to my faithfulness nor my prayer life; equally unrelated to my words nor my deeds.

Perhaps this faith thing is less like Cinderella and more like Pinocchio.  We pray and pray and pray to become more real, more human, and God says we can, but we have to be “brave, truthful, and unselfish.”  Plus we have to try our best to learn what the real consequences to our actions will be.  Then we go out and mess it all up, following the misguided temptations presented by the “Honest Johns” and Gideons of our lives, hurting ourselves and our loved ones.  And then, when we stop our hoping, our praying, our worrying and simply live life lovingly, the sacrifice we give to help those around us turns us into real humans.  I love the fact that Pinocchio (at least the Disney version) ends with the marionette puppet becoming a real boy, being certified as having a conscience, and then he and his father Geppetto live… in their own home.  They don’t go riding off into the sunset to a castle beautiful beyond our wildest dreams.  They go home.  A home with all the real problems and possibilities of any other one of our real homes.

My beloved, I can’t theologize away all those scriptures that show God, Moses, Elijah, Jesus, or even the disciples doing things that seem magical and like they are right out of a fairy tale.  I can’t.  They are there.  I have to admit I just don’t see life working that way here and now.  But what I can say is that God, in Jesus Christ, brings climax to the story NOT by moving into a magical castle, but by becoming real.  When Jesus gave his life up for his friends, indeed all of us I believe, and offered himself up to the powers and principalities of this world it was so that we would know no matter how horrible, no matter how tragic, no matter how painful the stuff of our real lives would be, we could count on God having gone there before.

Like Pinocchio, let us strive to be “brave, truthful, and unselfish.”  Will this keep bad things from happening?  Not on your life.  But this will help us learn to have a conscience, which will help us to be real.  And as we become real, may we become fully emancipated individuals, freed from our need to have God act like a “fairy godmother,” but act more like a loving friend, willing to dive into the belly of the whale or die on a cross to help save us.  God’s presence with us in the storms of life is far more wonderful to me than whether or not God ever stills the storms. That presence is magical.  That presence is real.  That presence is what will save us.  Amen.