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4th Sunday of Pentecost


Galatians 6:7-10

Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

Prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you.  May our baptism give us the Spirit and freedom to resist evil in whatever forms we may find it.  AMEN.

For the next several weeks, we are going to explore “Half Truths” of the Bible.  These are thoughts or sayings that you have heard from people you believed to be extraordinarily devout.  Perhaps it was something your mother or grandfather said in passing after hearing about a bad diagnosis, or the story of a wayward child.  You may have accepted the sentiment and believed it was a quote from the Bible. It might still be part of your theology.   

However, this series of sermons might disrupt some of your thinking.  At worst it will irritate and annoy you, but I don’t think your faith will crumble or cripple.  At best, it might cause you to question some long-held beliefs and consider them one more time.  

I’m not engaging in this series to annoy you, or even unsettle you.  It is not to create debate or dissonance. The real reason I want to talk about some of these sayings is that I think they can be very harmful to people.  I think they are the human muck that we sometimes make of the Bible, and theology, without considering some of life’s realities and truths, without considering who we believe God to be.  

And our understanding of who God is lies at the very foundation of our belief system.  

So, before I begin, let me be totally transparent.  My theological foundation lies in my personal truth that God is love.  

Today, we are beginning this series with the statement, “Everything happens for a reason.”  You’ve heard it said when a loved one dies. “Well he or she won’t have to suffer any longer.  Everything happens for a reason. “You break your leg, miss your flight, get a flat, buy the wrong laundry detergent, forget to inspect your vehicle, you forget your husband’s birthday, you lose your glasses, the Red Sox win, the Yankees lose, Tom Brady is injured, the Steelers win…  “Everything happens for a reason.”

This idea comes from the writing of John Calvin, a brilliant lawyer, theologian and pastor of the 16th century.  His writing is foundational to Protestant theology, so it’s not surprising that this thought that God causes absolutely everything to happen is still woven into our Christian faith.  

However, it can lead to some very unsettling questions…

Why did God allow airplanes to crash into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, or a Pennsylvania field?

Why does God allow suffering and violence so horrendous that millions of people seek asylum in the United States or Europe?

Why does God allow little children to be killed and traumatized in school shootings?

If God makes everything happen for a reason, if God picks winners and losers, if God determines who goes to heaven and hell even before we are born, then this idea certainly merits some examination.  So here are the two key problems with fatalism, or predestination.

  1. If God has already determined that everything happens for a reason, then there is nothing I can do about making my life better.  Getting an education is pointless, kicking my addiction to drinking or drugs is useless, or trying to make the world a better place is hopeless.  In fact, there is no hope. If I drink and drive, have an accident and someone is killed, I am not to blame because I was simply a tool in God’s larger plan.  
  2. What about God’s responsibility?  If God intends for everything to happen, then God meant for Oscar Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter to drown on the banks of the Rio Grande River trying to escape the abuses of life in San Salvador.  Do we really believe that? If you are a committed fatalist, there is no reason to wear seatbelts or a bicycle helmet, no reason to eat healthy, no reason to seek medical attention, no reason to take medication, no reason to vote.

So, what do Methodists think?  John Wesley adopted the position of Jacob Arminian, Anselm of Canterbury, and other theologians took exception to Calvinism, and suggested a way of thinking that gives Christians choices, freedom, the autonomy to yield to the Spirit’s prompt or not.  In his work, “Predestination Calmly Considered,” John Wesley wrote: “it is the work of God alone to justify, to sanctify, and to glorify; which three comprehend the whole of salvation.” God offers the rich gift of grace to us all, everyone.  However, we have free will to take that gift or not.  

God does not dictate our choices, but gives us our experience and knowledge to consider our decisions, reason to learn and develop ways to save and improve lives.  God gives us a tradition to refer to and scripture to read and meditate on. Moreover, we have the Holy Spirit living amongst us to guide us through our decisions. However, those decisions are always ours.

Yesterday, I happened to stop at Starbucks and I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in about 4 months.  We knew each other through a tragedy in her life. Did God cause the tragedy? No. Still, tragedy had brought her into my life and I’d thought of her often recently, just concerned for her wellbeing.  It was wonderful to run into her, and I literally did by the way. Practically baptized her with my green tea frappe. Was God at work in that? Maybe. Does God micromanage us to be sure we walk in and out of each other’s lives?  No, but I’m willing to give credit to God when something truly wonderful happens. 

I often think of the many 40 and 50- somethings who choose to answer God’s call to ministry in middle age.  They will tell you how they had been resisting their call for years. For every one of those people there are many more who never answer a call to ordained ministry, but grow in the wisdom that God grants them.  We can do that because of free will.  

Our lives are not cast in concrete the minute we are born.  We can choose, we have free will. And we alone are responsible for our choices, including the choice to yield ourselves and our entire lives to be used by God.