Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 20:7-13
Psalm 6:1-11
Romans 6:1-11
Matthew 10:24-39

So this week has been another emotional one.  As I mentioned last Sunday, my dad was in the hospital because of a stroke he had a week and half ago.  This of course was tough for my mom and my siblings, but for me it was tough in a different way.  Why?  Because I had a really busy week planned before any of this happened.  Between meetings, visits, planned dinners, school assemblies, graduations, Synodical events, and my regular duties as a pastor, I didn’t really have time to deal with my dad having a stroke.  Oh, and Winnie and I had our 10th wedding anniversary last week.

I was told my dad (and I pray that he didn’t understand or won’t remember if he did) that this really was the worst week possible for him to have a stroke.  I mean, really now, have some consideration, man.  I had to skip the council meeting, put other planning and organising on hold, take short cuts in my preparations, and piece together a sermon that really isn’t… well… it’s just this.

If my dad waited a week, like if he were able to have mentally held that clot from blocking that artery for just a few more days, then that would have been a lot easier for me.  But no, it happened when it did and it threw all my plans into a tailspin.

But you know what the worst part was?  Every morning for the past week and half I would wake up and almost expect there to be a message waiting for me telling me that my dad had passed away.

And let me tell you, that isn’t a great way to start your day.  It isn’t a good feeling to wake up with thoughts of death, loss, and pain on your mind.  And it doesn’t even feel like a relief when I see I don’t have that message waiting for me, the sinking feeling in my gut is still there.  Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well.

So I was tired, worried, and just emotionally drained and frustrated with how things were going, how my dad didn’t really seem to be getting better, and how I couldn’t do a single thing to change the situation.

I can’t heal my dad.  I can’t make the doctors more skillful or the nurses more caring.  I can’t even wake up without this fear in my heart that I wouldn’t be able to see him anymore and that I would have to somehow work up the strength to plan yet another funeral service for a loved one.

I felt out of control.

And that loss of control, that inability to change our situation, the seemed helplessness of whatever is going around us isn’t exactly pleasant.  I mean, we spent a great deal of our lives trying to gain as much control as we can over our surroundings, don’t we?  From the moment we come out of the womb our cries demand for the attention we need.  As toddlers and children we throw tantrums and argue in hopes to manipulate our parents and others to relinquish control to us.  Then as teens we do what we can to control every aspect of our lives without parents breathing down our necks.  And even as we enter adulthood, we fight for control of how our lives are lived, who is in government, and who we marry.

It’s like life is set up for us to want and need control.  So much so that we’ve begun to equate “control” with “success”.  The more control you have, the better you are.  You’re a better parent when you have more control over your kids.  You’re a better asset in the workforce when you have more control over the business.  You’re a better person in general when you have control over your life, where you’re headed, and how people treat you.

And so when we lose that control, when something happens that is out of our hands, well then that feels like a huge kick in the gut.  Like the system in which we operate just crashed.  Like the paradigm that we’ve always held has just shifted.  Like the God that we put our trust in is no longer listening.

Yeah, I said it.  You might think that sounds harsh and maybe even a little dramatic, but I’m just telling you how I felt this past week.

I didn’t understand.  I didn’t get why this was happening.  I couldn’t even balance what I felt and what I cognitively knew that I believe, have faith in, and actually promote for a living.

At times like these, when we feel the least amount of control, is we question our faith the most.  Times like these when we stare death in the eye, we wonder if we should have been believing what we have all this time.  Times like these, in the midst of pain and suffering and worry, we might falter, think that maybe there isn’t a God, or at least not one that cares enough to do anything for us.

But the irony is that it is at times like these when we need God the most.  It is at times like these, when the chips are down and our backs are against the wall that we need to put our trust in a higher power.  It is at times like these, when things are out of our grasp and spiralling out of control that we need to stop and understand that things are actually in control… just not by us.

Now I’m not saying that God willfully causes pain and suffering.  I’m not saying that it is God’s plan for us to go through hardships and malice.  I’m not saying that God wants my dad to be lying in an almost vegetative state in a hospital bed.  What I’m saying is that in the pain and suffering, God is acting in our benefit, perhaps not in in ways that we want or hope for, but in ways that give us comfort and peace.  When times of hardship and malice come, and they will come, what I’m saying is that God is present and active, not in magically solving our problems but rather surrounding us with strength and support to get through it.  When we feel the most out of control, that is when God comes in and takes the wheel so to speak, and steers us to still waters and green pastures.

Jesus tells us that we may never fully know God’s ways and plans because we will never fully be God, but we can feel and see God working in and through us.  Jesus tells us that we won’t have control, that we’ll face broken relationships, we’ll mourn loss, and that things really awful could unexpectedly happen to us.  But in that, Jesus tells us that it’s ok, we can trust that things will get better if even only in perspective, as we will be granted peace. It is in times when we have the least amount of control that we can see more clearly the strength and providence of God, graciously lifting us up out of despair and hopelessness, that we may lean on God as our fortress and sanctuary.

So I have come to a peace with my dad’s situation.  I mean, it helps that he actually is getting slightly better, even if he may never speak or eat on his own again, he’s not dead and I think I’m ok with that.  I see God working in this situation, through my family in their support for each other and the support we have received from others.  I see God working in the world, in people rallying together for social justice and equality.  I see God working in this community, that even when we face so many times of uncertainty and loss of control, we continue to have faith and hope in what is to come.

Like it or not, we face change in our congregational life.  The Preschool that we have been running for over 40 years is coming to a close.  The office administrator that we’ve had and relied on for what felt like 40 years is moving on.  And we recently made a big step in very selflessly agreeing to sponsor a refugee candidate, offering the safety of our country and a reunion with family.

See, we aren’t impervious to change.  We are not immune to losing control.  We too, are subject to the hurts and pains and the disorientation of the confusion of the world.  But we have each other.  We have this community of support.  We have God on our side, rooting for us and granting us the strength needed to get through it all.  And above everything else, God gives us the ability to know peace.  Peace in the midst of that confusion.  Peace in the midst of pain and suffering.  Peace in the midst of having no control over our circumstance, our situations, even our lives.

And I am ok with that.

As we embark into the summer of travel, of rest, and of probable uncertainties and confusions, may our faith in the God of hope, peace, and love be strengthened even in our loss of control.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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