Find out what is happening at St. Paul's

The 2020 Roller Coaster

The 2020 Roller Coaster
August 30, 2020
Passage: Jeremiah 15:15-21;Psalm 26:1-8;Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28
Service Type:

Where are you on the 2020 Roller Coaster? Are you having fun? I’m not being entirely facetious. On the 2020 Roller-Coaster, some people really are doing ok. The adaptations they’ve had to make have been minimally disruptive or even made their lives a little easier.

Are you a wave-your-hands-in-the-air-and-scream person or maybe you’re a I-think-I’m-gonna-be-sick person. Maybe you feel like your stomach just leapt into your throat or like the bottom just dropped out of your world, like you’re falling and there’s nothing to catch you. Sometimes it feels like we’re doing just fine, coasting along on a nice, easy, level section – until there’s a blip; something goes a little wrong or maybe suddenly there’s a disaster – like someone we love is in the path of a hurricane or a wildfire. Suddenly we’re not fine, anymore.

[Now, I want to do a little aside here about the gospel this morning. What’s happening right now is not “our cross to bear.” There’s a difference between suffering we experience as a result of disease or natural disaster or violence on the one hand and on the other, suffering as a consequence of following Jesus, of doing God’s work such as resisting the evil of injustice.]

When Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me,” he’s not talking about suffering in general. What we’re going through right now – suffering disease, losing jobs, economic hardship, homes lost or destroyed, wildlife and trees and forests killed, people being shot – that’s not the cross Jesus means.

We might think of it this way. Jesus was crucified as a consequence of remaining faithful to the work he was sent to do and the message he came to proclaim. When we faithfully follow Jesus, continue his mission, we are likely to face consequences we may not like. The cross is a consequence of following, not the act of following.

Back to the roller-coaster… How are you coping with the blips – big and small? How are you responding? Most of us have a whole menu of responses to choose from, and usually, there’s a progression, different for every blip.

Whenever someone actually asks out loud that question so many of us are thinking, “What’s next?” my husband’s stock answer is, “Boils.” Humor is a good tool to have in your toolbox to cope with stress,with sorrow or loss or fear. But it’s not the only one. It all depends on what the blip is. Sometimes a deep breath, a pause, and a reality check can help. Or a phone call with a friend. A break from the news or the internet. Often, that’s just not enough.

Joe Biden, in his speech, said that he seeks purpose for his life to help him climb out of the pain and darkness.

Sometimes we just want to do something to help: we can donate money or volunteer our time. Make phone calls, write letters to our representatives or to the newspaper. We can VOTE.

We can reach out to someone, ask for help, ask them to listen to us, to pray with us, or offer those things to them. It all depends on what the blip is.

That’s all well and good, but this isn’t a self-help group. Where is God in all of that?

That’s what Jeremiah wanted to know. “You are a deceitful brook,” he rails, “like waters that fail.” Lament is solidly in the biblical tradition. Jeremiah expresses his sense of God being inconstant, unreliable, even. You don’t often hear that preached on Sunday morning.

But do you ever feel that way? Jeremiah calls God to account, he’s accusatory, even. He has been faithful to God’s call, but to no avail. The people ignore him. He is isolated, reviled; his life is miserable and God has not protected him.

Notice, no lightning strikes. No vengeful wrath. God can bear the brunt of our anger. Lament is not faithless. If anything, Lament shows profound faithfulness. It demonstrates a deep trust in God, a belief that God desires and will be true to a relationship with us; that God does, indeed, care about us in our pain.

Lament teaches us that if we can call even God to account, absolutely every earthly power can be called to account. None is too important or powerful or remote to be accountable. That applies to us as well; we can be called to account.

All of those are happening all at once, right now. Disease and economic hardship are, in part the result of happenstance. However, they’ve been made worse by systemic problems and poor leadership decisions.

The pain and suffering and death resulting from racism and economic inequality and injustice are not happenstance. They are caused by human sin. The protests are calling us to account as well as those in power. How have we been complicit; how do we benefit from systemic injustice? And how do we begin to repent; to resist evil and enact justice?

When we or our neighbors hit those blips, remember the power of Lament. Cry out to God in our pain and sorrow, in our anger and our frustration. Cry out to those who have the position and power to make bold changes. And may we hear the cries of those we harm.

Know this: God listens. God hears our cries and we can be sure that God is, indeed, riding alongside us on this crazy, crazy roller-coaster.

Thanks be to God.