Sunday, August 05, 2007

August 5, 2007 - Just My Luck

Lots of people have been following the news reports about the tragic collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River, in Minneapolis. In today’s sermon – my first time back in the pulpit after a month’s vacation – I talk about the disaster.

What’s interested me about this sad event – quite apart from the dreadful human cost – is the element of luck. Some drivers made a last-minute decision to cross that particular bridge, rather than another, and found themselves on the falling roadway. Others were unaccountably delayed, and missed being in that wrong place at the wrong time. The strong implication is that luck – good or bad – played a role.

My scripture text is Romans 8:28, “...all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Lots of people read this verse – or, at least, its first phrase – as a promise of good luck, bestowed on those who believe. Is Paul actually saying that the Lord Almighty, dealing at the divine blackjack table, slips faithful believers a low card now and again?

Not at all. “All things work together for good” doesn’t mean good things will always happen to people of faith (or that we’ll even beat the law of averages). The key to understanding the verse is in the second part, which speaks of “God’s purpose.” We are all part of that divine purpose. It surrounds us. It's the universe we inhabit, the air we breathe, the life we live.

In the sermon, I cite the great British preacher, Leslie Weatherhead. He invites us to think of God’s purpose as though it were a great river, rushing to the sea. Within that river, as with all rivers at the spring flood, there are scattered bits of debris. Logs and branches float and spin upon the surface. Rocks and pebbles are borne along beneath, scouring the stream-bed, bumping up against each other, sometimes causing damage. Does God, who made the river and charts its course, have intimate knowledge of every bit of flotsam and jetsam – and, do the random collisions of these pieces of debris make the least difference to the river’s larger purpose?

Of course they don’t. Such things are the accidents of life. They cause us much consternation at times – but, in the larger view, they’re part of the greater movement for good.

That’s how I see it, anyway. Others may see it differently. When it comes to cancer and other dread diseases, I never imagined I’d get a free pass.

The thing Christian faith does promise is that when we do, finally, emerge from the waters – wet or dry, exhausted or exhilarated, bedraggled or bewildered or bemused – there will be a welcome awaiting us on that riverbank. Arms will embrace us, gentle voices will comfort us, love will be all around us. Then, the words of Revelation, chapter 21, will ring true:

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
[Revelation 21:3-4]

It’s not that experiences such as mourning and crying and pain have no reality, no true existence – as the good citizens of Minneapolis will readily attest, as they survey the twisted wreckage of their bridge. No, the tears are all too real. Yet, the tears are not forever.

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