Sunday, February 28, 2016

Piece by Piece; Character Sermon based on Luke 13:1-9; Feb 28, 2016

Rev. George Miller
Luke 13:1-9
February 28, 2016

Piece by piece, I feel like I’m falling apart.

Piece by piece, I have come undone.

Piece by piece, I have almost lost all hope.

My name is Joe, one of the countless millions affected by the recession, one of the many trying to make sense of it all.

I come from a family of decent working class folk whose parents came here hoping to build a better life.

“Go to college so you can get a better job,” they told us. “Go to school so you can earn a good living,” they said.

So that’s what we did. Bright eyed, bright faced, bright future.

“Take out a student loan,” they said. “Get a college degree and the world is yours,” is how we were sold. “Explore yourself and have fun,” seemed to be the motto.

What no one tells you is that after you graduate there’s not much you can do with a BA in English.

After trying to get numerous jobs in my field, I began to admire those who got into computers, or those who learned how to fix cars, or repair A/C Units.

So for years now I’ve been barely getting by, going from job to job trying to figure it out, piece by piece.

What can I do with a BA in English? How to pay off my student debt? How to feel like I am actually making a difference.

Then the recession hit, and it hit hard. People were losing their jobs; folk more talented than I were being laid off.

Once sure sources of income went bust, and with it, people like me.

I tried to get a job. I went to Red Lobster and there were 30 other people there in business suits, filling out applications to be an afternoon server.

I applied to a group home but was told I was too qualified to be a resident counselor; that I was more management material. But they weren’t hiring managers.

I applied at a factory but they said they were unsure that I’d actually stay with them.

I tried to start my own business but all I got was calls from con artists trying to sucker me out of my remaining savings.

Piece by piece, I feel like I am falling apart.

Piece by piece, I have come undone.

Piece by piece, I have almost lost all hope.

A doctor said I was depressed so she prescribed me anti-depressants, but they didn’t work; they didn’t solve the problem of getting a job.

Instead of taking away my pain, I had no feeling at all, just complete and utter numbness.

People with jobs tried to cheer me up. “Something will come through.” “When one door closes, another opens.” “God never gives you more than you can handle.”

How I dislike that sentiment. “God never gives you more than you can handle.”

Really? Three years into unemployment, heat turned off, bill collectors at my door, days away from eviction, stomach in knots?

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” Who made that statement up?

Do you know that it exists nowhere in the Bible? There is not one single scripture that says anything close to that expression, and yet people say it to me all the time, as if that is supposed to give me hope.

And what’s the logic? Why would a loving God give me a burden? Why would God want to see me suffer? Why would God want me to go 3 years without a job?

I think of people who have suffered throughout history. Like slavery. Are we saying that wasn’t too much for people to handle?

Or the Holocaust? Are we saying that wasn’t a burden?

Or all the men and women who’ve had their legs and arms blown off Iraq? Does that really seem manageable?

People will say “Everything happens for a reason.” Really? Like it’s part of some cosmic plan that I should suffer and struggle all this time?

Like God is some puppet master in the sky who controls everything we say, do, and experience.

That we are pawns in God’s hand, to be used for something we can’t see or understand?

Then there are those who look at me with the judgmental look, and say in no uncertain words that I must’ve done something wrong.

Like the recession was my fault. Like my actions caused the housing bubble to burst.

There are people who think that God dishes out bad things for the sins we have done.

Like the people killed in Kansas all deserved to die by gunfire? Like the folk in Kalamazoo were receiving some sort of cosmic payback?

Like those who’ve been killed by Isis or fell with the Twin Towers suffered for their sins.

Didn’t they experience more than any human can handle? Did any of their deaths have a reason?

Piece by piece, I feel like I am falling apart.

Piece by piece, I have come undone.

Piece by piece, I have almost lost all hope.

Perhaps all of this is just life. Maybe this is just the way it is.

Bad things happen. Good people suffer. Like fig trees we go 1, 2, 3 years without bearing any fruit before we are cut down.

And somewhere, some place God is asleep, or watching unawares, or perhaps worse of all, God is amused with our suffering.

Piece by piece, I feel like I am falling apart.

Piece by piece, I have come undone.

Piece by piece, I have almost lost all hope.

…but then, I force myself to remember…

…to remember the stories I was told in my childhood days, about my ancestors. Not the ancestors who came over on a boat, but those in Israel a long, long time ago.

Piece by piece, I remember the stories we learned in the safety of Sunday School.

Piece by piece, I remember the stories we heard in sermons.

Piece by piece, I remember the stories we studied in scripture.

I remember the promises made to Abraham and Sarah. That they would have land, they would have a family, and their family would bless all the families of the world.

I remember how even after God made all those promises to them, it took years and years for it to become true.

And although it seemed to take forever, God never abandoned them, nor were they ever alone.

I remember that I am part of their family of faith, and that if God made the promise to them, that means God has made that promise to me too.

So I’m willing to believe that somehow, some way God will follow through with me too.

So I am willing to hold on, piece by piece.

I remember all the stories that were told about the wilderness. Of how the Israelites wandered the wasteland.

And though things were not easy, there were ways in which God provided, like water from a rock, bread from heaven and quail from the skies.

So I look out for my own wilderness moments, those times when it seems like God is indeed providing, piece by piece.

Like a friend who takes me out to dinner, an unexpected check that comes in the mail, when Emmanuel UCC has their Shepherd’s Pantry.

Piece by piece, I embrace the Lenten journey and the miracle of the resurrection.

I look at Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and though it is different than mine, I feel as if these three years I have been suffering too.

I look to the cross and I see the sense of loss, the sense of loneliness, the sense of lunacy that I’ve been going through, and I find comfort in knowing I am not suffering alone.

And, I look beyond the cross, beyond the empty tomb, into the garden, at the upper room, at the mountain in Galilee…and the promise of new life, of Christ’s eternal presence, of new beginnings, and I find hope.

Piece by piece I tell myself that if this is indeed my own personal time on the cross, than perhaps I too can experience my own kind of resurrection, my own kind of new life, my own kind of rebirth.

I may be like a fig tree, three years bare, but perhaps in the fourth year I will come alive.

And piece by piece, I find the ability to persevere, I find the ability to prevail, I find the ability to go on, step by step, story by story, and yes, piece by piece.

I do not believe my current situations are a burden that I can bear, alone. I do not believe my burdens are a part of a plan. Nor do I believe that I am being punished for any sins I have committed.

But I do believe that in Christ, I have a Savior who will bare my burdens with me.

I do believe that the Holy Spirit will work with me through my burdens and from them bring forward something new.

I do believe that although I do sin, I have been forgiven, and that God wants nothing more than for me to thrive and survive.

Piece by piece, I feel like I am coming back together.

Piece by piece, I know there is much more that I can get done.

Piece by piece, because I can remember, I know that I have hope.

Amen and amen.

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