Sunday, October 28, 2007

Where Is Help from God?

Reformation Day [Observed]
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Simon and Jude, Apostles
Sunday, October 28, 2007
John 8:31-36

Things bigger than us tend to put things into perspective. When we find ourselves powerless against such a destructive force as a natural disaster or other tragedy we’re humbled a bit. Each time it happens we’re struck by how little we can do. In the seven short years of this millennium we’ve had our share of catastrophe in our nation, with 9/11, Katrina, and in our part of the country our second round of devastating wildfires. The assault on homes, businesses, and, sadly, even several lives was relentless. When you can lose everything in an instant you re-evaluate what is important to you.

Severe strain such as we’ve endured in San Diego and all of Southern California also brings out the best in people. It’s hard to overstate the heroism of the firefighters who have endured extreme conditions to save lives and homes. It’s gratifying to see the thousands of people who have given of their time and gifts to help out those who suddenly found themselves without a home or possessions. We’re thankful that in times of crisis government leaders band together for the common good.

But there’s the other side, too, isn’t there? Twisted people who start fires. Self-indulgent people who loot at others’ expense. Low-lifes who take advantage of people’s desire to give by ripping them off with false charity schemes. It’s a tragedy on top of an already tragic situation.

It’s at times like these we’re looking for ways we can get help. Whether it’s a home if we’ve lost ours. Or some peace of mind in knowing that our loved ones who are in harm’s way are okay and will be able to recover from their losses. Oftentimes, in these situations we look at our immediate needs, and there’s something to that. It’s kind of a natural reflex to make sure we’re taking care of our needs. But there’s also an important need for us to reflect on how we can learn from these kinds of situations.

What I mean is this. The firefighters are showing the model of what is best in humans. But do they act that way in their day to day lives? Are they always ready to sacrifice for others, even in little things? Those who have volunteered and helped out those in need, are they ready and willing to do that when people are not faced with a severe disaster? We say we trust in God, but have we throughout this crisis? Do we in our day to day lives in even small challenges?

This week our state has been facing a crisis. We’re all trying to deal with it and pick up the pieces. We’re being comforted by loved ones and being a comfort to loved ones. We know we’ll get beyond it, like we did four years ago. But we also know it won’t be easy. We do wish, don’t we, that it could be easier? We wish even more that things like this never have to happen. It’s at times like these that we are granted a gift, however.

It’s hard to see in the midst of it. But it’s here and we’d do better to recognize it. It’s the hand of God in the tragedy we experience. It’s in little things that don’t seem so little, with God’s protection given through the lives and actions of brave men and women who fight the fires. It’s in the opportunity God gives us to help those who are in need or are suffering. And those things are wonderful, because they help people where they’re at in their need.

But there’s even something larger that God is doing in all of this. It’s something that we need to know for beyond this time that we’re experiencing. Because life will continue beyond this tragedy. We will go back to living our normal lives with a look toward the Day our Lord returns to deliver us from this at times dismal existence. And how will we live it? Will we go on as we so often do, not recognizing who we are in Christ as we ought?

God gives us a blessing in a way we might not expect. It’s in the sameness of being here. It’s in this place, the House of God, that we receive His blessing. It’s in the things that are done here that we find stability. Our homes may be here today and gone tomorrow. Many have experienced this firsthand or are grieving with those who have. But there is something that cannot be taken away. And that is what we receive here.

What is it? In a word, it is Christ. There’s a reason we come here to God’s House and follow a calendar that does not go by months or years. It is the calendar of the Church Year. And if we don’t see how that applies to us, especially in the midst of our suffering in this moment, then we need to sit back and hear how this gift of God is for us in our time of need. Because this calendar is not like the one you have next to your fridge where you mark down what everyone in the family is doing and when. This is one that marks what Christ has done for you and the world.

There is no more relevant and timely calendar than the one we go by in the Church. Because what Christ has done for the world meets us where we’re at—no matter what is happening to us. The Scripture readings for each Sunday of the Church Year were designated long before we were ever hit with this disaster. And yet, they are more timely than ever.

What does the Church Calendar say to us today? The festival of the Reformation is a celebration of the Gospel. To some it might seem odd to celebrate the Reformation, something that grew out of the actions of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century in Germany. It might even seem out of place when it seems there is the the more pressing matter of coping with the devastation and recovery. But the need is still the same. The Church is always in need of reformation. Why? Because the Church is made up of sinners. God didn’t pick out the people who are free from sin to make up His Holy Church, but sinners. That’s because there are only sinners in this world. We may experience different degrees of tragedy but we’re all in the same boat in our sinfulness.

This might not seem all that earth-shattering. It might seem like a dull theological point that’s better thought about when we’re not facing such dark days as we are now with all the devastation. But it couldn’t be more pertinent! God takes us where we’re at! Even while we were sinners Christ died for us! Even though the inferno that blazes around us is seemingly unstoppable, God looks down on us in mercy and lifts us up. Christ suffered the fire of eternal torment on our behalf. We are sinners who stand before God forgiven.

One of the problems we have as human beings, and as Christians, is that we tend to be shortsighted. Right now we’re caught up in the emotion and exhaustion of what we’ve all gone through and are still experiencing. And that’s understandable, and even good. We need that. But we also need to look ahead. Jesus was talking in the Gospel reading to those who believed in Him. And yet, they didn’t like what they heard from Him. That’s troubling.

What they were questioning Him about doesn’t relate to what we’re going through, but isn’t the intent the same? To question God? Haven’t we had moments where we’ve wondered why God is allowing us to suffer in such a way as we have this past week? And don’t we so often want to look at the good that is within us that shines through in moments like these so that we can feel good that there’s still hope in this world? Isn’t the last thing we want to hear today the message that we are sinners? Isn’t what we want to hear comfort and good things about ourselves in the midst of all the bad that we’ve experienced?

We don’t want to hear Jesus’ judgment upon us as sinners because we don’t want to admit that we’re no better than those who have gone before us, but Jesus’ message to us is the same: “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” If we think we’ve had it rough with what we’ve gone through this past week and simply want relief from that, we are terribly shortsighted. Jesus wants to give you relief from so much more!

We will recover from the fires. But how will we be delivered from our slavery to sin? Jesus said: “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Just as we pray God to deliver us from the fires we especially pray Him to deliver us from our sin. What He does is send a flood. It doesn’t look like a flood, but it drowns us just the same. In Baptism we are dead to sin and raised to new life in Christ, free and in the House of God forever.

Those who were spared the loss of their homes helped out those who were forced from their homes or even lost their homes. They offered comfort, food, a place to sleep. That’s what Jesus does to us. He offers us Himself. He gave Himself not just to save us from a natural disaster but eternal damnation. He endured the fire of God’s eternal judgment on sinners. He suffered on the cross to become sin so that we may be free, a member of God’s Household. He feeds us with His very body and blood given and shed for us for our forgiveness.

Where is help from God? Here at His Table. Here you receive His forgiveness. Here He sets you free. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Amen.


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