Suffering

The thrill of victory and the agony of the wilderness

We recently watched the movie, Molly’s Game. Not to spoil it, but Molly’s story runs on two levels; there is her rise and fall in the competitive world of Olympic ski competition. Then there is her rise and fall — fall, as in criminal indictment — as the runner of a high stakes poker game. In both stories, Molly has the rush of victory and the agony of defeat. While going for a medal at the winter Olympics, she has a fall that nearly kills her. She spent many months in the wilderness of a hospital. Jesus is baptized, sees heaven open up. God claims him as his son (scholars debate about how much he knew before this event described in Mark 1:9-12) and then the Holy Spirit drives him out into the agony of the wilderness, fasting for forty days and being harassed by wild animals and demons.

What are we to learn from this? The higher your jump, the more profound your fall? That is what you think you are seeing when you go to a movie like Molly’s Game. But two greater truths emerge: 1) That her inner sense of character, her soul, comes to the front because of her fall. She has the opportunity to “sell out” and shorten her stay in the wilderness, but she chooses instead the moral high ground. 2) We don’t know ourselves until we go into the dark place. We must either walk through the wilderness or live forever in the shallows of life.

What do we learn from Jesus being driven out into the wilderness? 1) That Jesus chose it. He chose fasting. He completed the full forty days that he had signed up for. We too must choose to be spiritual people, and that means suffering. 2) That the fullness of who we are as people only emerges after we go where we are totally empty.

Sunday, February 18, 2018
Lent 1

Why do the innocents suffer?

When we do Christmas, it is very tempting to skip the story of King Herod's murdering the children of the Bethlehem region. In a year when the innocent children of Syria, and their parents, have been made to suffer, this ommission is unconsciencable. I remember one adroit fool suggesting that we could skip Matthew 2:13-23 in our Sunday lections because the event discribed doesn't appear in the secular histories of the time and could have been made up by Matthew. The only secular histories we have from this period are pro-Roman (Josephus wants to paint the Herodians in a better light for his Roman audience) the way Putin/Trump is pro-Assad and love FOX news. Putting current political concerns asside, the real reason for preaching Matthew's slaughter of the Innocents is to counter our dangerous tendency to down play the depravity of the human heart. When we say, "No one could do such evil," we give tacid support to the rise of dictators and future holacausts. 

 

I want to quickly list bullet points for telling Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents and the Flight into Egypt:

How does it begin?

I’ve learned a trick from Sci-Fi guru Orson Scott Card, when I’m at the bookstore, looking for a novel, I always read the first 13 lines of the book. If the author doesn’t nail it in the first half a page, the book isn’t likely to be worth it. Mark’s gospel is a good read. He begins with ordinary folk flocking out into the wilderness to hear a prophet. What would make them do that? They have a need to know that life will turn out Okay. Some of them have lost children to malnutrition. Others are struggling through failed marriages. Everyone is caught in the cross-fire between the zealot terrorists and the oppressive Roman government, with their congress of Sadducee stooges. The people need to hear a good word. We share that need with them.

 

Sunday, December 7, 2014
Advent 2

The Sound of Silence

Elijah on Sinai gets earthquake, wind, and fire. Sounds like the Weather Channel this spring. The prophet doesn’t find God on the Weather Channel, but in the soft, "sound of silence" that follows. It's like looking for the holy in the static that used to exist between the channels of our pre-HD TVs. We all tend to look for God is the traumatic. We expect God to do a miracle and prevent the Tsunami from hitting Japan. We expect the tornado to blow around the good churches of Oklahoma. We expect the fires to skip over the worshiping families of California and Colorado. God is not in the earthquake, wind, or fire.

 

Natural events, like terrifying illnesses, are not where God is as a direct cause (James 1:13-17). They are the random occurrences that mark our world’s fallen nature. They happen to good people, as well as, to the bad. They remind us of the heavenly debate that begins the book of Job. If God puts a hedge around his people and lets no fire or flood hurt them, then people will have faith for the wrong reason. 

 

Sunday, June 23, 2013
Pentecost 6
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