Our lectionary readings this morning brought to mind so many different scenarios for me. There is a wealth of instruction and encouragement from these passages, and I was inspired to reflect on stories I have heard and relationships in my life. So, this morning will be a different sort of sermon from what I have expressed before.
When I was young, from around six through twelve years old, I went to my grandmother’s church for summer church camp. She and my grandfather were Church of God church planters throughout central and north central Texas. She lived on the retired pastors’ campground in Weatherford, Texas. Summers in Texas were hot and dry, made even more grueling with the rule of no shorts or pants, skirts only, below the knees. So, to escape the heat, I would go to her house in the afternoons, and she helped me memorize Bible verses in the cool of her window AC unit. We started with the Beatitudes from Matthew. Having Luke’s version of the Beatitudes in our lectionary reading brought back wonderful memories from my summers with MeMa.
Continuing the thread of stories that these readings brought to mind, we will begin. A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
C.S. Lewis said, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.”
There is a story of three men sitting in a cave who face the back wall of the cavern. Within the cave they are chained in such a way that they cannot turn their heads nor their bodies to see behind them. Outside the cave, people are walking back and forth. Birds fly through the sky and dogs chase cats which chase mice. These people and birds and animals cast shadows against the back wall of the cavern, and the three men watch these shadows flicker and sweep against the wall. These shadows are all they have ever known, and they believe these shadows are the truth of their lives.
One day the chains are broken for one of the men, and he is free. He gets up and turns around. He sees the campfire that offered flickering light for the men. He then walks outside. He blinks and squints as he looks up to the bright orb of light in the sky. His eyes adjust and he sees colors for the first time. He see the brown trunk and green leaves against a blue sky. He sees a red bird flapping in a water fountain. He looks into the fountain and sees the reflection of himself in the water. He sees a black and white dog and bends down to pet its long, soft fur. He does not understand how he sees these images, but they are distinctly different from what he has known. He runs back to the cave to tell the two men remaining there what he has seen. He explains the grass and sky and sun and people and animals. They think he has gone mad. They cannot perceive what he is speaking of. The two sit in their cave believing their truth while the third man engages in a different world perceiving his.
W.B. Yeats also said, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
Is the one man wrong? Are the two men wrong? As Plato wrote this Allegory of the Cave, he expressed that what we see is not always Truth. Our perception is based upon where we are, either inside or outside the cave.
Schopenhauer said, “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”
A man has all that he’s ever wanted: a beautiful wife, strong and intelligent children, great wealth that includes land, animals, workers. One day, out of the blue, a blight kills all his crops. The next day, disease kills all his animals. The next day, all his children are killed in a collapsed building. The next day, he wakes up to horrific boils all over his body that causes him excruciating pain with every movement. The next day, his wife tells him to curse his God and die. The next day, his friends come and tell him to repent of his sins as he has undoubtedly done much to anger God and cause such calamity. His response is to rebuke his wife and his friends saying that he will not deny his God and that his faith in God is strong and resolute. It was
Anais Nin who said, “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
I have a student who comes to me quite regularly. We sit together and he asks rapid-fire questions: Why does God allow evil? Did God create evil? If God loves us so much, why would He allow us to suffer? Why would He create a beautiful garden that had a tree with so much potential damage? Why does God hate him? Why does he feel abandoned? Why is he alone? How can God love him? Where is He?
Arthur Rimbaud said, “I believe I am in Hell, therefore I am.”
A man is driving down the road of the Mojave Desert at 80mph. The wheels of his truck hit a patch of gravel and he begins to slide a bit. He overcompensates the steering wheel and loses control. His truck jumps the guardrail, flips a couple of times and comes to a stop close to a drainage ditch in the opposite direction in which he was traveling. The man was knocked unconscious and sustained only a few bruises and a small cut on his forehead where his side window busted out and the shattered glass spewed across his face. Fortunately, another driver came up soon behind this truck and got out to see what was going on. As the driver began to come to, he asked questions like: What happened? Where am I? How did I get here? The other man was helping the driver out of his vehicle, however, had a significantly different series of questions: How in the world did this happen? How did you manage to land where you are? How can you still be alive? What the driver didn’t yet realize that the rescuer did was that the truck didn’t just land in a drainage ditch. No, it landed in a drainage ditch which was less than 12 inches away from a cliff drop of 200-ft to the valley below that feeds into the Grand Canyon.
In our readings from Jeremiah, the Psalm, and Luke we are told of the distinctions between those who put their trust in mortals, in what they can control, in what they can see and touch and grasp. For these, truth will fade and wash away. In times of trouble, faith will waver and doubts will creep. In days of grief, emotions will flux and fear will flourish.
But, those who look to God and cry to Him for mercy and courage will hold fast and know peace. Will the hard times not happen for those who trust God? Certainly not. Just ask Job from our story above. But, the fear and doubt and anger and pain will not overshadow the calm and hope that come from God.
From the teaching of Paul, he says: Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
And from words that we easily recognize, let us pray:. Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night; and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your Love’s sake.