Sermon for Lent 1, March 5, 2017
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Lappans
By The Rev. Anne O. Weatherholt, Rector
We have now entered the season of Lent.
For the next six weeks, we are in preparation for the Easter Feast.
As promised, I am beginning a series of sermons titled “Great Questions of Faith,”
And todays question is “Why?”
First some parameters and a disclaimer.
If you are expecting answers that will forever address these questions for everyone, everywhere in all times and places;
You will be disappointed.
If you are expecting quick and simple sermons that resolve your personal questions, you will be disappointed.
I realize this is NOT a great way to begin a sermon series!
But - -if you are willing to go on a journey with me;
If you are willing to think and question doubt and struggle;
Then just maybe, all of us will have a chance to grow in faith;
And as we grow in faith, to grow in practice, making us more Christ-like
Making us a Church, a place of community, of learning and of compassion.
So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s dive in!
Today’s question “Why?” is perhaps one of the most universally human questions of all.
For thousands of years, human beings have asked “Why?” in good times and in bad.
We know little children are reaching a wonderful stage of growth when they begin to ask “why?”
Mommy, why is the grass green and the sky blue?
Daddy, why do I have to brush my teeth and eat my green beans?
And the more challenging questions:
Why did my goldfish die?
Why did the bee sting my foot?
And for those children in the Church,
Why can’t God stop wars?
Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?
As we grow older, the whys grow in depth and breadth,
Even as the answers begin to form… but the whys seem to follow a similar pattern:
Why is the grass green? – Photosynthesis!
Why is the sky blue? – Refraction of light waves
Why do I have to brush my teeth? So your mouth will stay healthy
Why do I have to eat my green beans? So that your body will gain nutrients.
Why did my goldfish die? We forgot to change the water.
Why did the bee sting my foot? I stepped on it – and it was defending itself.
But as we get into the more complicated issues, it is tempting to give simple answers to complex questions:
Why can’t God stop wars? -- Because bad people keep starting them….????
Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Because …..well…ummm….God always answers prayers but just not always in the ways we expect?????
Why? Why? Why??
This question has inspired humanity to gain some of the greatest knowledge of the universe.
And this question has been the cry of those in despair who feel God has forsaken them.
But to ask this question is to begin a conversation with God;
Who, after all, was there before anything existed;
And in whom we live and move and have our being…..
And, as it says in one of our prayers….”from whom no secrets are hid!”
In our scripture, our forbearers began their own conversation with God
As they looked around and wondered, “Why are things the way they are?”
“Why do babies die? Why can’t we seem to keep God’s laws?
Why does civilization always seem to drift towards corruption?
And as they continued this conversation with God and with one another,
A story began to emerge:
A story about the beginning of all things
A story that begins in “Pre-history”
Not so much intent on fact or recollection; But on meaning and context –
The story that is our Old Testament Lesson today
The story of Adam and Eve – the representatives of the first humans, our first parents.
Why does bad stuff happen? Wondered our first scripture writers.
Why, even when God has delivered our people from slavery and given us the Promised Land,
Why do we still seem to have wars with our enemies and civil wars between our sisters and brothers?
We believe God is the ultimate ground of all being;
And we believe God has made us His people;
And we believe that God is good and loving, and holy and all powerful;
Why do bad things happen?
Today’s story from Genesis was their conversation with God;
There must have been a time, they prayed, that things were good
Between us and God –
Else why would we even care r know that things were bad?
And if there WAS a time when things were good, what happened?
So came into being the story of Adam – Atham – which means human being
And Eve –
But notice that in this account from Genesis, they are not named---
They are referred to as “the man” and “the woman.”
God has set them in a wonderful garden with all that they need.
But God has also set some boundaries –
That they should be HUMAN –
They are not to be “little Gods”
They are not to have complete autonomy;
But are to be in good relationship with God and one another.
But then, as the story goes;
Temptation enters the picture –
That force which points away from God
That tendency we all have to see our own way as the best way.
And with temptation, the man and woman “fall,” from favor with God.
They eat of the fruit (notice not “apple”—that came along with medieval painters);
And their eyes are opened.
They become ashamed of themselves –
And they sew some fig leaves together to cover themselves up.
The story goes on— beyond the selection for today:
God comes to the garden in the cool of the day to visit the humans;
But finds them hiding.
Who told you you were naked? Who made you ashamed to be what I created you to be?
And the humans begin to blame – he said, she said, the serpent made me do it…..
And God cannot allow them to stay in the place of perfection.
They no longer belong;
But they are sent out into the world with their new knowledge of Good and evil – the knowledge of Good that reminds them of their original and intended relationship with God;
And the knowledge of evil – that this relationship has been broken – and not by God!
Here is where the conversation begins to address the question “Why?”
Why? Because the creation and reality in which we exist is broken.
Because we are no longer in “Eden” – even if we somehow suspect deep in our hearts that there was once a place and time and will again be a place and time where wars will cease and little children will not starve.
Because in each of us is born the tendency to believe the world is as we individually see it – we cannot crawl into another persons’ reality –
And this tendency can either make us selfish;
Or, if realized, it can make us humble.
Why not? Because the relationship with God is flawed, we are subject to all manner of things – random acts such as floods and earthquakes;
And avoidable acts, such as – well you name it!
And actions others perpetuate that impact us;
And actions we do that harm or hurt others….
No child has to be taught to be bad or selfish ---
One of the most chilling books I ever read was “The Lord of the Flies”
It is about a band of boys marooned on a desert island. At first they help each other, but as time goes on and resources are scarce, the stronger ones prey upon the weaker boys. In the end, just before they are rescued, a young child becomes a gruesome sacrifice – and even though in the end they are all just children, none of them are innocent.
The book was written in post war 1955 – and is a commentary on the inhumanity that seems to erupt when moral boundaries are absent.
Each person must somewhere/somehow learn to be good, to repent and begin again; to be forgiven and to become empathetic, compassionate and altruistic.
One more point before ending this sermon:
The conversation with God can be shortchanged if our answers to this huge human question are made in a way that does not wait and listen such as:
Why? Because it is God’s will……
Why? Because there is a reason for everything…
Why? Because humanity is evil….
Why? Because that is just the way things are…………
These replies stop the conversation with God and shortchange us – they may seem to help in the short run, but stunt our spiritual growth in the long run.
It is much more difficult to wait and listen:
To open our hearts and minds to the boundless faithfulness of God;
To be willing to realize that we still have much to learn;
And to often take the next step into the unknown, grasping the hand of our Lord who went through death so that our why’s might be heard in the light of His forgiving love.
Stay tuned for next week’s question: Where?
Anne+ is the Rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Lappans. She says,