“Everything Happens for a Reason. Really?” • Romans 8:28-39 • February 13, 2013
Brothers & sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Ash Wednesday. It’s the beginning of our Lenten journey – which is more of a pilgrimage than a journey, but however you want to think about it – we begin today. To further lift up the meaning and importance of this day in our Christian life, I want to introduce you to a Methodist pastor named Chuck. Pastor Chuck is part of a YouTube video channel called http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PFAmmlezot4 Chuck Knows Church that is hosted by our United Methodist brothers and sisters. I like Pastor Chuck’s insight on Ash Wednesday.
The dictionary defines a cliché as a trite, stereotyped phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea that has lost originality, ingenuity and impact by long overuse. While some clichés are useful, others are so common that we stop thinking about what they really mean. But if we really stop and think about what they mean, we’d realize that some clichés just aren’t entirely true.
The early bird gets the worm. Yeah, but the early worm gets eaten.
Better safe than sorry. Well, if that were true we might never get out of bed.
There are lots of clichés that are less than entirely true or helpful, and some of them are connected to our faith. That’s what we’re going to explore in this worship series on Wednesdays in Lent. Over the course of the next few weeks we’re going to take a closer look at some of the most popular clichés that circulate in Christian community.
Chances are that, like me, you’ve used a few of these clichés a time or two. The intention of this series is not to make us feel guilty for having used them; it’s to help us think more deeply about what they say and what they imply about God, about us, and about our life together in the body of Christ. I think we’ll discover along the way that these clichés can do more harm than good, communicating things we really don’t intend to communicate. Together we’ll explore some things that might be more helpful and a more faithful response when the need arises.
We begin today with one of the most popular clichés, one that I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have heard it – “everything happens for a reason.” Why is this one so popular?
At its core, it may be because one of our basic needs as human beings is to find meaning in things that happen to us in our life. When we go through a difficult time, like an illness or the loss of a love one, we want to find meaning and purpose in it, and we search for the “reason” why it happens. We say something like “everything happens for a reason,” in an attempt to control the uncontrollable, to give an answer for something that can never really be understood. We think this may make someone feel better, or at least make ourselves feel better, when in reality it may just make everyone involved more confused.
This week’s cliché is challenging for me because I have trouble understanding what reason God would have for causing or allowing tragedies, natural disasters, child abuse, incurable diseases, or other evil things to happen as we walk through life in this world. This is not the loving God that is reveled to us in Jesus Christ.
God doesn’t cause bad things to happen for a “reason” that we have to try and figure out. The God that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ can transform and redeem any situation that we may find ourselves in. Jesus doesn’t answer the “why” question for us when we go through a difficult time in life, but he does promise to walk with us through it or over it or around it.
Marilyn is a woman who has struggled with a debilitating time of rheumatoid arthritis and pain through 28 surgeries over the past 36 years of her life.
She says that, “In place of a cliché, what has been most helpful is when someone has simply said, ‘I am so sorry you have to go through this. What can I do?’”
“The struggle that I’m facing,” Marilyn explains, “finds peace, hope, encouragement, and love through the presence of someone who doesn’t seek to explain or minimize my struggle, but instead to enter it. And to empower me, care for me, and love me. And in turn, I am able to be that person for someone else. It isn’t our knowledge or strength that brings hope. It’s the light and love of Jesus shining through us.”
What Marilyn is saying is that you and I don’t need to try to explain to someone the reasons why they are going through a painful time or try to fix their pain. We simply need to acknowledge their pain and let them know that we care.
Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler once said, “When a small child cries out in the middle of the night because she is afraid of the dark, it is the foolish parent who turns on the light, shows the child that there are no monsters in the closet or under the bed, and then turns out the light, telling the child there’s nothing to be afraid of. It is the wise parent who climbs into bed with that child, wraps her in arms of love and comfort, and whispers, ‘It’s okay, sweetheart. I’m right here.’”
Why bad things happen is a mystery, no matter how hard we try to make sense of them. But as followers of Jesus we hold onto the hope that the one we worship is with us in all moments of our life, including the darkest ones. This savior is wrapping us in arms of love, saying to us, “It’s okay. I’m here with you in the midst of whatever you’re going through. You are loved. You are never alone. Together we’ll walk through the valley of dark shadows and back into the light of love and grace and healing and wholeness.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I don’t believe that all things happen for a reason, but I do believe that God is with us in all things. As Saint Paul reminds us today in our reading from Romans, God is able to take the darkest and most difficult moments of our lives and redeem them, bringing something good from them. In the midst of the mystery of faith, that’s a hope worth clinging to.
So as Lent begins today with ashes placed upon our foreheads, may that mark of the cross of Christ be a sign that helps you and I remember that we are never alone and that nothing can separate us from the love of God poured out for you and me through Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord. Amen.