Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection October 29, 2017
"Sermon Snippets" by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
I’d like to place some thoughts from this past Sunday’s sermon (October 22) in this week’s Advance:
Life is inherently disappointing. Is this not so? Is life fair? No, it’s not! And so we all, every one of us, find ourselves disappointed. As the theologian Karl Rahner noted: in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.
Because of this very common human experience, many of us develop strategies for coping with life’s inherent disappointments. Some of us pretend not to be disappointed: the strategy of denial.
But denial only works for a time. Eventually our denial falls apart. The frustrations that come from living in our wounded world push against our denial until it crumbles to dust in our hands.
We can pretend only for so long. After a time, we no longer are able to cling to false assumptions about how life treats us all the same. We no longer claim that being born in Englewood (where I was born) is the same thing as being born in Oak Brook (I would have preferred being born to wealthy parents instead of poor immigrant parents!). We no longer claim that being born in South Sudan (and so many other desperate countries) is the same thing as being born in America. We no longer claim that being born a wealthy white male is the same thing as being born a poor Black woman.
Too many in our society foolishly claim that the circumstances of our birth matter little to our eventual success or failure in life. This is denial of the worst kind. It cripples us as a country.
Another strategy for living with life’s disappointments is to blame God whenever something unfortunate comes our way - the reverse of thanking God for every good thing that happens. Let me add a Jesus teaching here: (From Jesus’ most important public teaching, The Sermon on the Mount): “The Father causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mt 5:45)
This, to me, means that God treats us all the same, that God treats us all equally. God does not “give” good things to his “favorites” while punishing sinners with bad things. God does not work this way, according to the only One who really knows how God works - Jesus Christ.
Let me add another well-worn strategy for dealing with life’s disappointments: lowering our expectations. It’s easy to lose hope in our-often hopeless world. Truth is that I’m having a hard time finding much hope in our current political landscape.
Life beats us up. When this happens - and it will - we can lower our expectations. We can turn down our hope. We can expect little or nothing from life. A new beatitude perhaps: Blessed is the one who hopes for nothing, he or she will not be disappointed!
But Jesus preaches against this common strategy: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27) This is pretty clear teaching. We’re called as disciples to have courage. Yes, life hurts us all at times. Yes, life is not always fair. Yes, life disappoints us. But we can courageously face the world as it is.
God holds us in hands that will never drop us, no matter what. When I was young, my older brother, Jim, would sometimes snatch me or my twin brother and carry us outside to our second-story bannister. He would toss my brother or me into the air and then catch us. Frightening is too small a word to describe what I felt being tossed in the air two stories above the ground. Of course, there was a strange sense of exhilaration involved in this “game.” But, yes, this is probably the real reason I am the way I am!
Jesus, on the night before his love-propelled death, taught his disciples: “I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14:27) Thank God for this because the world gives but then takes away. The world promises more than it can deliver. The world lies that we can have it all. The world lies that we can be all we can be. Lies and more lies!
So, then, should we keep asking God, should we keep asking Jesus, for all the things we want and need? Maybe not! Again from The Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear … Look at the birds of the air.” (Matthew 6:25-26)
I recently was talking with a friend who described the joy of being at Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California for the return of the swallows. I envied her that experience. But I told her I’ve experienced the annual return of the turkey buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio on five separate occasions. Not many have had that privilege! “Look at the birds of the air.”
I’m no longer sure who said it but here is a good prayerful practice: in prayer, just seek God’s peaceful and powerful presence. Ask for nothing! But be ready and willing to receive anything God offers!