Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Just when it couldn’t get any worse. When it rains, it pours. Kicking a man while he’s down. You know that feeling, right? I’m sure you’ve been there.
Now, it’s admittedly a mild example, but I’ve been there too. Let me set the stage. Maggie, my wife, and I met in college at the University of Texas. She didn’t mind dating a guy who wanted to be a priest, so that was cool. We fell in love. So we got engaged. We graduated from college, and then came the day of decision. Being called to the priesthood, the bishop sent me to the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. Being called to become a physical therapist, Maggie started at Texas Women’s University in Dallas. Three years of being engaged, living two thousand miles apart. That’s not too fun.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I learned that seminary is hard work. Sometimes I felt like I was chained to my desk – learning Greek, studying theology, and spending hours and hours and hours in church history archives. Without Maggie, studying constantly.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I experienced my first winter. I know, I know, it’s just Virginia so it’s not really “the north,” but it was still cold. I remember shoveling snow with my buddy from Alabama. We had no clue what we were doing, and we hated every minute of it.
And so I came to end of seminary. Maggie and I had survived during our long-term, long-distance engagement. I had excelled in my studies. The third and final winter had been the worst, but eventually the snow melted. Things couldn’t get worse…or could they?
See, I had made a deal with God. If I make all of these sacrifices to become a priest, then God would make sure I got to live somewhere cool. Maybe south Austin or downtown Houston. But things were about to get worse. I got my letter in the mail from the Bishop. And where was I going after seminary? Waco.
This couldn’t get any worse, could it? I had sacrificed three years of life with Maggie. I had slaved over my books. I had fended off blizzards. And in return, God was sending me to Waco? It couldn’t get much worse.
And it just couldn’t get much worse for the woman that Jesus meets. This poor nameless woman – she was a widow. Without her husband, she was in a precarious position in the first century. Without a husband, she could have easily been left without a protector. It couldn’t get any worse, could it?
Well, it could, and it did. Her son, her only son has just died. This woman is now on the verge of financial catastrophe. She had no husband, no son, no relation to provide for her. She was left all alone. It couldn’t get any worse, could it?
Well, it could, and it did. This strange man approaches the woman, and says something that must have really ticked her off. Here she is, at the absolute bottom of her life. Beat down. Not raining, but pouring. And this stranger comes up to her and says, “Don’t cry.” Oh come on! What is she supposed to be doing? Of course she’s crying. Her husband is dead. Her son is dead. She’s all alone. She’s out of hope. And some jerk tells her to stop crying. Kicking her while she’s down.
Just when it couldn’t get any worse, it always does. There wasn’t only one tornado that struck the people of Oklahoma – there was a whole outbreak. There hasn’t been just one mass shooting in the last year – there have been countless mass shootings. Firefighters killed in West. Firefighters killed in Houston. When it rains, it pours.
Now, it’s always at the bottom when God puts a twist on things. God is like a mystery writer, spinning the plot and giving you a thrill right when you don’t expect it.
For instance – Maggie and I actually liked Waco. Isn’t that crazy? I trained under a great priest, and we made some lasting friendships. When it seemed that life was on a irrecoverable downward spiral, God stepped in. The very thing which seemed impossible – that Waco would actually be alright – was the very thing that was a blessing.
For this woman, this despairing woman that Jesus meets, her life gets all turned around too. And here’s the twist. We might suspect that Jesus would maybe give her some money. Or make sure that the town provided for her. But no. The very thing which has sent her into this downward spiral, is the very thing that God turns around. Jesus raises this woman’s son from the dead. Jesus takes her sorrow and her anguish and her pain and twists it all around. The widow is assured that she will not meet economic ruin.
But here’s the kicker. For the woman in this story, the turnaround is almost immediate. Her sorrow is turned into joy instantaneously as her son goes from dead to alive. God twisted the story of the woman’s life, but all in the span of a few seconds. And for her, the turnaround was so obvious. Her son, who was dead, is alive again. So clearly obvious.
But I have news for you – this is the exception to the rule. More often than not, when God works it is neither quick nor obvious. God works in the subtle ways. Gently prodding, moving. Sometimes taking days, months, years, decades to resolve an issue. We are so impatient. We want God right here and right now to do the things that we want God to do. But it doesn’t work that way.
See, God has a long time. Eternity, in fact. And thanks be to God, that’s a long time. Because this means that God has forever, literally forever, to save us. God has forever to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. God has forever to restore a broken relationship. God literally has forever, to turn things around. Our years are fast and fleeting, but God has forever to figure things out. It may not be obvious, and it may not be immediate – and only years later, after things just kept getting worse, may you see how God was working toward the good. Do not lose patience. God is doing good, you may just not see it yet.
Finally, when you are there, or when your friends are there, at the bottom; when it’s raining, and it’s pouring; when they are getting kicked when they are down – remember this: God really does love you. It may not be apparent. You might think that God has forgotten you or abandoned you. But what Jesus said to the woman, I say to you, “Do not weep.” God is on your side, working for you. You may not notice it now. And it may be that, right now, things just keep getting worse. But there is an end in sight. God is on your side. Working subtly. Working slowly. But nevertheless on your side.
And as the crowds say when they see this great miracle, we can say too. “God has looked favorably on his people!” God is looking favorably on us.