Today’s Word from Pastor Tom Kidd…
Understanding is the consequence of believing. The ways of the world teach us the opposite. Consequently, I have learned that if you cannot do ambiguity and paradox, your life of faith is left to two options: fundamentalism or atheism. In fact, an atheist and a fundamentalist are two halves of the same coin. It is either all true or none of it is true. Either the world was created in six 24-hour days or Jesus did not rise from the grave. Kind of jarring, isn’t it? So, a fundamentalist (different than a person of a conservative faith expression) and an atheist are two halves of the same person.
When confronted by a mystery, “Why was my child born with a bad heart?” the fundamentalist is left with, “It is God’s will.” Not a very satisfying answer if your heart seeks a loving God. The truth is that much of life is a mystery. My stock answer when confronted by tragedy is, “I do not get it.” Most of the time I simply do not understand why there is evil. I do not understand why the innocent suffer and why bad things happen to good people. I don’t.
There were close to six hundred people at Maddie’s funeral. She was a couple of weeks short of her sixth birthday. Rather a remarkable turnout for such a short lifespan. At the beginning of the service I had all the children stand up on the seats of the pews so I could talk just to them. There were over a hundred children standing up on the pews looking at me over the heads of their parents. I wanted them to understand what we were doing here in church this day. I wanted them to understand something of death and why we didn’t have to be afraid even though Maddie died and we all missed her terribly. The following is a story my Grandfather told me a very long time ago when we were walking about the local church cemetery. I had noticed a family plot where three children had died within two days. This is what I shared with the children at Maddie’s funeral:
“It was Diphtheria, a bad disease. A ‘shot’ to protect children was yet years away. The disease came through this country like a wave washing over us. Children died. This one mother and father lost all of their children in a span of two days. The parents left; in their grief, they couldn’t stay here. They loaded their meager possessions in their wagon, hooked up their horses, and headed west. Somewhere in their journey, the story is told, they watched a shepherd trying to coax his sheep across a fast rushing stream. Even though the grass was lush on the other side the sheep would have nothing of it. The stream was not deep but it was moving too fast and was obviously intimidating. Finally, the shepherd picked up a couple of the lambs and carried them across the stream. It was the bleating of the lambs that convinced the rest they should follow. It was the turning point for this couple, for if the Good Shepherd had come for their lambs and carried them across, then they would make plans to follow.”
The day of Maddie’s funeral, 100 children received their first communion.
Jesus gave us one command, “Follow me.” That’s it. “Follow me,” says our Lord. We have no “shot” for this virus. People of all ages are dying but it clearly seems to be striking the poor and vulnerable disproportionally. It’s global; there is nowhere we can load our wagons and escape to. At last count there have been 161,000 funerals to be planned for, in our country alone. In seven months, 161,000 funerals! Way too many innocent lives lost.
God’s will? No, this is not God’s will. Nor is this proof that there is no God. In the midst of the horrible ambiguity of this moment we look for a story, a metaphor, a deeper truth found in a paradox that can give meaning and encouragement. We look for our Good Shepherd to offer us a sign that there is a way across this mess. “Follow me,” says our Lord.
Understanding is the consequence of believing. Lay the cross down, lay it down believing it is like a bridge across this stream of death. Somehow, mysteriously, the cross of Christ becomes our means of crossing over the brokenness of our world. Maybe this is what St. Paul meant when in Ephesians 3:2 he wrote how he was “given knowledge of a mystery.” Like us, we have knowledge of this mystery of God’s love. I know it is true because I watch how you love each other. And the lambs beckon us to follow.
We are closer, be at peace, our Shepherd comes,
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