A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday in Lent – March 12, 2006
Text: Mark 8:32; Genesis 17:17
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’d like to share with you a quick story. It was late at night, about a year ago, over on Highway 1. Ellie and I were on our way back home from Hutchinson; most of the drive was behind us – just these last dozen miles or so, and we could call it a night. Of course, that’s when the cherries went off in my rear view mirror. A trooper wanted me to pull over.
Now, I’ve laughed at my share of cop jokes. I’m too young to have yukked it up over Barney Fife, but I’m a sucker for Chief Wiggum’s gaffs. I’ve been known to joke about “ossifers” pulling off at Krispy Kreme to refuel. But I’ll tell you, when it’s 12:30 and a man with a badge and a gun is shining his flashlight through your window, a funny thing happens – all those manners we were all brought up to have come rushing back. “Yes, sir. No, sir. Thank you, sir. I’ll see to it, sir.” Being near someone with power can do that to us. We’re suddenly on our best behavior, making a show of how polite and cooperative we are. If not out of respect for this powerful figure, then at least out of fear of what might come from a careless word!
I drove off that night without too much trouble – just a citation for being a few weeks out of date with my tabs. The county has long since spent my money, I’m sure. But the experience has stuck with me. You see, I don’t think we’re that much different around God than we are around any other authority figure.
It’s not so common anymore, but for those of us of a certain age, it comes naturally to slide into thees and thous when we fold our hands to pray – words we never use except when we’re talking to God. Even those of us who didn’t grow up on thys and thines at Sunday school still find ourselves speaking to the Lord in ways we never use outside of prayer – “if it is your will, please let me…” Most of this is habit, and we don’t think much of it – but the fact is, whether we realize it or not, our prayers to God often sound more like my carefully-polite words with that trooper than a close conversation with someone who loves us. We’re guarded with God…formal.
I see it most often in myself when I’m angry with God, when I’m hurting. It can be awfully hard to tell God what’s on my mind. I’ve noticed that those prayers go in circles, dancing around the real issue with all kinds of pretty words. I don’t think I’m especially unique in this. As a pastor, part of my calling is to help people through some of the rockier patches of their lives. Over and over again, as I do this work, I hear a familiar thought: “Pastor, I’m so hurt right now. I know I shouldn’t even say it, but I’m just so angry at God. What can I do?” I always give the same answer, the one that I need to hear when God starts to become a Highway 1 cop to me – “Just tell God whatever’s on your heart. Don’t try to make it pretty and proper. Give it to God as it is – he can take it.”
Scripture is full of characters who tell it to God like it is. Just in today’s readings, we’ve got two of them.
First of all, what about old Abraham? A faithful fellow, he is – followed God across the Middle East, trusting that God would be as good as his word and fill the land with Abraham’s descendants. And in the first lesson, God repeats his promise to Abraham yet again – and this time adds that all those descendants will begin with a child conceived in the womb of Sarah, his wife. God thought that Abraham, at 100 years old, and Sarah, at 90, were going to make a baby! Our reading conveniently ends with God’s promise, but do you know what the very next verse says? “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed.”
Fell on his face laughing. Clutching his belly, tears rolling down his cheeks. Gasping for breath – maybe even giving himself the hiccups. That’s Abraham, the father of all the faithful, laughing in God’s face. Anyone expecting a lightning bolt right about now?
But one never comes. God doesn’t zap Abraham for his outburst of honesty. Abraham recovers from his laughing fit, and the conversation picks up again from there. God isn’t threatened by Abraham’s feelings – in fact, he gives the old man a chance to really speak what’s on his mind. God understands that in order for Abraham to have the kind of relationship with God that the Lord desires, Abraham needs to be free to lay it all on the table whenever he’s in the Lord’s presence.
We find another example in Peter. Good old Peter, he’s always one to speak whatever’s on his mind. In the boat – “Let me walk with you on the sea!” On the mount – “Let’s pitch some tents here so we never have to go down!” And when his Lord is teaching about crosses and dying – “Certainly not, Jesus! Stop talking like that!” Think how confident in Christ’s love he must have been in order to speak this way!
Now, it’s true that this last outburst of honesty earned Peter a rebuke. That probably stung. But Jesus never seems threatened by Peter’s honesty (he knows what’s on his friend’s heart, anyhow), and he never allows his relationship with Peter to be damaged by it. Jesus realizes that if Peter is ever going to understand who his Lord really is and what that means for Peter, and for the world, then Peter’s going to have to be able to speak his mind, to ask his questions without fear of losing Jesus’ love.
From David in the Psalms – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – to Moses in the wilderness – “Why did you give me this stiff-necked people to deal with?” – the scriptures are filled with people who raise their voices to God in times of need, times of anger, times of frustration, times of fear. They know a freedom with God that allows them to speak with complete honesty in their prayers. God is big enough to handle it. Besides, he already knows what’s on their hearts – what is the sense in pretending to hide it from him?
You and I can learn from them. We don’t need to protect God from our innermost thoughts. If we’re angry at him, the best way to begin healing that anger is to come right out and tell him in our prayers. If we’re feeling abandoned, what better thing could we do than tell God so? If we’re frightened or hurt, what sense is there in trying to keep those things from God? Don’t forget – God lived in a human body. He knows all about your fears and weaknesses. It’s never wrong to bring them to him.
Only, keep praying. In good times and bad, never stop holding up your part of the conversation. Do not fear lightning bolts, but lift everything to our Lord – good and bad. That’s what it means to be in a relationship with him. Amen.