Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Luck Of The Irish?

Easter is the season of miracle and resurrection.
Acts tells us the miracle story how Peter raised Tabitha from the dead.
Do we believe such a thing could happen?
Some people refuse to believe in miracles
because they are unscientific.
They think science says miracles are impossible.
But since the early 20th Century, science has not been so arrogant.
Science today tells us that hardly anything is impossible.
Some things are just extraordinarily unlikely.

Miracles are unlikely but can we still believe in them?
It is extraordinarily unlikely that an explosion like the Big Bang
would sort itself into an orderly cosmos.
It is super unlikely that such a cosmos would generate life.
That such life should evolve to become sentient, aware, self-aware,
intelligent, creative, and spiritual is beyond belief.
The fact that we are here this morning is so amazing
we should not raise an eyebrow at the miracles on scripture.

A miracle is – an extraordinarily unlikely moment of grace.
Unlikely, yes, but I have experienced such moments – not often, but sometimes.
You may have experienced them too.
When all hope seems lost, things miraculously come round right.

We may call it luck.
We may just shake our heads and think the situation was not
as grim as we had thought.
Or we may say, “thanks be to God.”

Whether we call those extraordinary moments of grace
gifts from a loving God
or just the luck of the Irish is up to us.

The problem with miracles isn’t really science.
The problem with miracles is theological.
If miracles happen sometimes,
then why don’t they happen all the time?

I did my pastoral internship one summer at a hospital in Boise.
Every summer there,
a child will drown while playing in an irrigation ditch.
My greatest fear was being on call
for the emergency room when that happened.
In August, it did.
I sat with the young father while the doctors tried
to resuscitate his 12 year old daughter.
It seemed like forever.
I went with him to see her body.
I held him as he cried.
And all I could think of was the words of Jesus,
“Talitha cum. Little girl, rise up.”
But she did not rise up.
There was no miracle.

Robert Schuler, the television preacher of positive thinking
used to say, “Expect a miracle.”
But the very nature of a miracle is that it is unexpected.
It’s what usually doesn’t happen.
He thought we could make our own miracles
by having an optimistic attitude,
that we could conjure up the power of God
to do our bidding if we just think happy thoughts.

But that is a shallow way to think about God,
it isn’t psychologically healthy to live in that kind of denial,
and it usually doesn’t work
because miracles usually don’t happen
– except when they do – and that’s the problem.

If we could say God doesn’t get involved in our lives
or there is nothing God can do about sickness, death, and disaster,
then we could just write God off and get on with it.
We might believe God exists.
We might even go to church.
But we wouldn’t expect God to actually do anything.
God might be God but he wouldn’t be good for much.
Problem solved.

Then in desperation we pray anyway -- or someone prays for us --
and grace breaks into our lives in some unforeseen way
at some unforeseen time.
What are we to do with that?//

The Bible does not try to make the world simpler than it really is.
It does not say that whatever happens is God’s will.
If we assume everything that happens is God’s will,
we are not talking about the God of the Bible.

Throughout Scripture, we hear over and over
that God is not at all pleased
with the way things are going on earth.
If God’s will is already happening,
how come Jesus teaches us to pray “thy will be done”?
If this is already God’s kingdom where things are God’s way,
then why do we pray “thy kingdom come”?
Isn’t God’s kingdom, God’s will what we are waiting for in the final act?

So as C. S. Lewis says, for now our world is “in enemy hands.”
How it came to be this way is another story,
but what matters is that’s the way it is now.
God is not yet making the decisions in this world.
A lot that happens is painful, tragic, and wrong.

But the Bible also says God is involved in our lives.
God is always present, always caring, always tugging things
in the direction of the good.

It’s a lot like being the parent of a teenager or a young adult.
Do you as a parent have influence? Yes, some.
Are you in control? No you are not.
We are involved – hopefully in a good way
– but that is not the same as being in charge.

God is involved now.
And we can open the door to let God be even more involved.
We can open the door to allow God into our lives
to do more of the good things God already longs to do.
That’ s what prayer is for.
That’s what hope is for.
That’s what faith and trust and working for God’s cause
are all for.

We can align our lives with God’s will
and that helps.
We can be God’s agents behind enemy lines.
We can give God more of an opportunity to work.

But we cannot turn over the whole world to God.
We don’t have that much authority.
So God’s grace breaking into the world remains a miracle.
It remains what we don’t expect.
It surprises us.
But it happens sometimes
and because it happens sometimes,
there is always hope.

There is no situation in which we cannot hope for a miracle.
But hope that God will do a specific good thing
at a specific time isn’t something we can count on.

We have a bigger hope than the kind of miracle
that happened when Peter prayed for Tabitha.
We have the hope of resurrection in our lesson from Revelation.
That is more than hope. It is you can take it the bank assurance
because of one simple fact.
God alone is eternal.
Only God and the things that are of God last forever.

We are of God. All that is good and beautiful and true is of God.
But pain, suffering, injustice, and evil are not of God
so they do not last forever.
Death does not last forever.
Death itself will die.

Then comes the resurrection.
All that is of God comes back from the grave like Jesus
and with Jesus.
All that is beautiful, good, and decent comes back.
God who made it to begin with can raise it up.
That little girl in the Boise hospital will live
and her father’s grief will end.

We will not be raised back to this life like Tabitha in Acts
– not to this life with its endless frustrations and disappointments.
We will be raised into the presence of God
where we “will hunger no more and thirst no more
and the sun will not strike (us) or any scorching heat
. . . He will guide us to the waters of life
and . . . wipe away every tear . . . .”