I hate to admit, but this topic is so thorny, that I didn't write this until an hour before it was presented. Please excuse any formal or theological stumbling blocks.
Sermon for fifth Sunday After the Epiphany year B
I have been simply struck dumb as I’ve dipped my toes into these priestly waters at how the lectionary lines up with the life of the parish. It almost looks like a divine hand that is working through the selection of our readings and the life of this parish. I think this is the best definition of how our scriptures are holy, they work on us to such an extent that we can actually see our lives reflected in them, they make a claim about our lives, and our life together. And today we get a doozy.
Here in our Gospel we have Jesus going and casting out demons and healing the sick. And what did we have this week at Saint John’s? No less than two funerals, several hospital admissions, and one devastating prognosis for our sister Jo Brock. In the Gospel reading the people bring the possessed and the sick to Jesus and he casts out the demons and heals the sick. In first century Palestine, being possessed by a demon and being sick were oft-times synonymous. So if we bring our friends to Jesus in prayer he will heal them, right?
But what happens when that doesn’t happen? What happens when hundreds of Christians pray for the healing of someone and the healing never comes? How can we talk of the unsurpassing power of God, the ultimate goodness of God, and still know that evil and degradation exists?
This past week I had one precocious 9 year old parishioner ask, “If God created everything, then why did God create cancer cells?” Why indeed? Did God create cancer cells, or did God create cells in a world where things can go wrong, where cells can rebel against their natural state and begin to fight with other cells. You see, God created a world that has the freedom to go wrong.
But doesn’t that mean then that God’s power is limited? If God is so powerful, then why would he create a universe that is capable of evil and loss? The answer is freedom of course, but it is so hard to talk about freedom in the culture without having a political discussion. The kind of freedom that God builds into the universe, even into our very souls, is the ultimate act of divine power.
What kind of God would control everything? What kind of powerful God would find it necessary to arrange every little heart and mind toward him? What kind of a powerful God would force us to love him? A monster-God that’s what; only an insecure and ultimately weak God lords his power over his creation.
Our God, THE God, creates a world where the creation can choose Him or not. Our powerful-God creates us to choose. In this freedom, which we are truly free to use to love or hate God, and each other, is the square-one of creation. From there we can move toward God in love, or away from Him in coldness and anger.
But, there is a real downside to this freedom that God builds into his creation. It allows for the existence of evil. I must quickly add that, even though God allows for the existence of evil, he does not will it. Evil is a by product of a finite universe, sin is the by product of freedom. God does not will evil to happen but suffers its existence for the sake of our freedom. Time and time again God does indeed overcome evil, the Bible is case study after case study in the triumph of God over evil: The exodus of the Hebrews from Slavery, the constant call of the prophets to return to God, and finally in the triumph over death by the raising of Jesus. God works through evil to show his ways, to create an Epiphany of himself within his creation.
So here we are: right in the middle of this creation, this free creation which houses bad cells, bad choices, cosmic and everyday evils. So what do we do? What do we do with Jo, and countless others who suffer and die right before our eyes? We do what we always do, we return to God, we don’t have to be cheery about it, we can ask questions, Why Lord? We go to God and we thank him for our creation. We thank him for those he has given us, if even for far too short a time. We thank God for our freedom: that we can choose him. We look to our creator and we thank him, even with pain and loss in our hearts, even with tear streaked faces we can freely go to our creator and sing his praises.
And there, in that moment, we might get a sense of the distinction between healing and curing. When we run to God in our distress, when we cry in his presence then maybe a healing can occur, even if a cure doesn’t.
There is no happy way to end this sermon. We will never be free of the ambiguity of our creation and existence with a powerful loving God in the midst of evil and sin. But we will sing his praises, we will confess our sins to him and each other, we will celebrate his death and rising until he comes again. And we will tell his story, the story of the powerful loving God, who allows for freedom, though we might suffer its consequences.
Join me now as we tell his story in the words of the Nicene Creed: We Believe in One God, the Father Almighty…