Sunday, October 14, 2012

Why have you forsaken me?

Psalm 22: 1-15, page 500 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night but find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver – let the Lord rescue the one in whom the Lord delights!” Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. Sermon In the new Firehouse Subs restaurant on James Campbell Boulevard is one of the most incredible machines – certainly it’s the most incredible coke machine I’ve ever seen. I say it’s a coke machine but it is a lot more complicated than that. It’s called the freestyle, and what this machine does that's different from any coke machine I've ever seen before is that, whereas your standard coke machine at a restaurant has regular coke, diet coke, orange drink, and sprite, this thing features over 120 different drink choices. It's called the freestyle because it gives you, the consumer, the freedom to make up any combination of flavors you can imagine - not just Dr. Pepper but Dr. Pepper with cherry and vanilla - not just orange soda but peach, lime, fruit punch or any combination of the three. The only problem with all these options, all these flavors that you can chose to combine any way that you want, is that every one of them, besides regular coke, diet coke, orange, and sprite is absolutely disgusting. My own combinations have been unpalatable failures, and I am convinced that if I were employed by Coca-Cola as one of their recipe developers I would bankrupt the company in a few short weeks. There's a reason they sell cherry coke and not raspberry vanilla coke in stores. I know this machine gives people what they want - options, freedom of choice, the ability to personalize and make even your drink your own - but I wonder if people are, in general, more satisfied because of it. Has the chance to make it yourself really made anyone happier? Does having more options make life any better, or, regardless of how much freedom we have to decide on our own, does it seem as though complete satisfaction will still remain out of reach? It’s possible that this is what the rich young man in our first scripture lesson was struggling with. Despite all the options, all the freedom that he had, there was something missing, so he goes to Jesus and asks him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It must have seemed like a strange question to many members of the crowd that were gathered around Jesus. The wealth that this young man had gave him options that no fisherman could have imagined. He chose what to eat in a world where so many ate whatever they pulled in from the sea or the field. Wealth gave him the chance to choose how much he would eat in a world where for most people that decision was made – they ate what was provided and there wasn’t ever enough. We know that he chose where he would go with the freedom to wonder off from his job to ask Jesus this burning question: “Good Teacher, I am rich enough to buy what I want, and while I have lived a moral life, by all counts I consider myself a good person, it still feels as though there is something missing, so what must I do to inherit eternal life?” In many ways this question sounds familiar. We are the wealthiest nation on earth, and despite the stress that our economy has put us all under, unlike so many in our world most all of us know where our next meal will be coming from, some of you may be making decisions about where you will go out to eat after church right now (I’m not offended – it’s a crucial decision and let me recommend Firehouse Subs), but the fact that we have such options in our life, even having the assurance of food should ensure our happiness, at least that’s what the advertising campaigns have told us. Coca-Cola’s advertising campaign last year featured the slogan: “Life begins here,” and then in 2012, “Open happiness” as though it could be bottled. Wal-Mart’s new slogan is “Save money and live better” but what if saving money on 400 varieties of pop tarts isn’t enough? “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” ““Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.”” The young man heard this and walked away. That’s not too uncommon a thing to do either. It was reported in USA Today this past week that Protestants no longer make up a majority in the United States of America. The Christian majority continues to slide, and while it was Protestants who sought out religious freedom and founded this country, our numbers slid down from 53% in 2007 to 48% today. “Where did they go?” journalists and scholars have been asking. Some fear that they walked away to become Muslims or Wiccans, but the truth is that the Christian faith loses its members, not to another religion but to no religion at all. The fastest growing religious group in our country today, growing from 15.3% in 2007 to nearly 20% today is the religion of “none of the above”. Today those who walk away from Jesus as the rich young man did so long ago walk away towards figuring it out on their own. Dissatisfied with Jesus’ response to their questions they walk away, and turn to something else, because for many there is no obligation to submit to one belief system created by some other authority when you can create a belief system all your own. If you like what Jesus says about love but are uncomfortable with what Jesus says about money, why not combine the Gospel and Atlas Shrugged to create a combination all your own? Take some Socrates and Plato, combine that with a taste of Deism from Thomas Jefferson, and Karma from Hinduism and suddenly you have a faith that can work for you. I’m not going to let the Coca-Cola Corporation choose for me when I can engineer the flavor of my drink all by myself, so why would I submit to the authority of the church when I already know how to be a good person? And the rich young man went up to Jesus asking him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” when the question he should have been asking is not what must I do, what can I do, but can you help me see beyond myself to have faith in something, because I know that if it’s up to me to figure out on my own I will never be able to do it. The world has fooled us all. The world has tricked us into thinking that we can figure things out on our own, that I can do it myself, that I don’t need anyone to help me along the way, and that attitude of the self-made-man looks just fine walking down fifth avenue, feeling like you're somebody, but what about when you have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death? Christ called that rich young man to give up the riches that provided him the allusion of independence – if you want eternal life, give it all up and learn what it means to know you need help – and not just help, you need a savior. I worry about that 20%. I know they are just fine while the sun is shining, the bills are getting paid, and food is on the table. They can choose for themselves how to live and what to do with their money and their time. But what about when cancer creeps in – who will they call out to? When death shows its face, to whom will they turn? When they are lost, when they are poured out like water, when they are laid in the dust of death, will they even know to call out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “In you,” and not in their selves, “our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” Don’t you see – that “for mortals so much is impossible – but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Dedicate yourself to something more than the selfish pursuit of satisfaction. Depend on someone beyond yourself and you will know what it means to live. Do not try to figure faith out for yourself when Jesus Christ, the author of our faith, has already shown us what it means to believe, crying out to God from the cross, quoting the words of Psalm 22 when he could not articulate his thoughts and feelings for himself, depending on the faith of those who came before when his own faith faltered. Use this time of Stewardship to dedicate a portion of your income as an acknowledgment of the one who is beyond you, the one who will come to your aid, the one who has and will suffer with you through whatever trials await. It is in giving up on whatever you think life depends on – your wealth, yourself, your control – that you realize who you truly depend on. “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” Amen.

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