Sermon on how the good is so good and the bad is so useful

Sermon on how the good is so good and the bad is so useful August 18, 2015

(click above the listen along)

Wiki Commons image from Holiday Diner
“Chitlins” Wiki Commons image from Holiday Diner

3 days ago, someone who, up until then I thought was my friend, tagged a super unflattering photo of me on Facebook. In which, for some reason, I looked both dim-witted and morbidly obese. And it bothered me all day because everyone knows Facebook is the place where we can all be pathologically attractive and happy and funny and have lives that are portrayed as nothing but the highlight reel.

I was so bummed about this horrible photo that I wondered what it would be like if somewhere in an alternate dimension we all had alternate social media profiles – profiles that were comprised solely of the bad pictures we’ve deleted off our phones. The ones where one eye is closed and our butts look big. And all the status updates in this alternate Facebook were things like “I spent last night alone while sobbing gently into my Star Wars pillow” or “I just manipulated my spouse to get my own way”. I know one thing: I’d be a whole lot more motivated to spend time reading other people’s status updates.

Some of you know I preached at a dear friend’s wedding yesterday in Princeton. And it was for sure worthy of a highlight reel: everyone was looking their very best. But given the fact that we live in a fallen world, I was looking around wondering if dressing up for weddings is the best idea. I mean, maybe instead of dressing up and looking our very best at our weddings, it might make more theological sense if we just rolled out of bed and showed up totally as is. Sleep in our eyes, sporting morning halitosis and that ripped shirt we still have from college. That would just be more realistic. Because in the end, as much as I’d love it if a highlight reel of our shiniest, most spiffyed up moments were only what defined us, they’re not. I mean, moments like weddings and baptisms and college graduations – moments of beauty and celebration are important, but, again, if we choose to think theologically those moments are no less important in defining us than are our times of failure and need.

See, in our Gospel reading Jesus says that the will of the Father is that nothing be lost that has been given into his hands, but that all will be raised up on the last day, which begs the question, what exactly then has been given to the son?

I’m pretty sure God did not cherry-pick the Facebook worthy things of this world to hand to the son. No friends, It was the whole package. I don’t think the father handed him just a highlight reel of our brightest, shiniest most spiffyed up moments in life. No man, I’m pretty sure it’s uncut footage.

Yet so many of us who were raised in the church were given the message that God is only interested in loving and saving an already cleaned up version of ourselves…so we can only come to God with our consciousness’ as clean as our white Sunday School shoes. As though God can only love or make use of us when we are our very best selves. And so the times when we are small and self-interested and angry and weepy well, that is just the proverbial stuff we have to sweep under the rug before company arrives.

And I think all of this might be related to how we view the good and the bad in our lives. It’s like this weird deal we made with God – that if we agree to be good then God will agree to “not give us more than we can handle” which is nonsense by the way – my husband the Texan says that verse really means that God will not give you more than Ya’ll can bear. You won’t be given more than a community can carry – anyhow- I wonder if maybe God doesn’t work in quite the same either/or way that we do. Because I don’t think it was God who set up this weird quid pro quo – where in exchange for us being good God agrees to make sure our lives are never hard and we never suffer. I wonder if the basic premise we so often operate under is that if we are our best self God can use us. And if we are our worst self then we are on our own and likewise, if our life is “good” it means God is pleased with us and if our life is hard then it means God doesn’t care. In other words the only thing of value is what can show up in our highlight reel.

And yet, the God revealed in Jesus does not seem to share that economy. I mean, he is just the weirdest combination of wastefully generous and creatively frugal. I mean, first of all, Jesus will accept anyone – that guy loves a sinner and will offer forgiveness and mercy to like, basically anyone. Just look around. He’s got no taste. So rather than Jesus being stingy like we are stingy, Jesus is just wastefully throwing around blessings and forgiveness like they grows on trees and at the same time won’t let anything go to waste. I’d love nothing more than to cut the raw footage of my life down to that highlight reel of just the wonderful moments when I managed to be my best most gigantic self. But in the editing room of our lives, as we try and cut out the footage of when we thought only of ourselves, or we yelled at our kids or when we maybe lied about that one thing or chose to listen to a voice other than God’s as those bits of film fall to the cutting room floor – so we can whitewash the broken reality we live in, we can hear our Lord and savior say “wait. I can use that stuff”. It’s like we have a soul food God who makes spiritual ox tail soup and chitlins out of the stuff we’d rather throw out. So if life is hard and we can’t manage to always be our biggest most gigantic selves it doesn’t mean something is “wrong” nothing’s wrong because Jesus didn’t come to redeem our Facebook status updates – Jesus came to save sinners and nothing will be lost that has been given him by the Father. None of it.

Jesus said this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day To me this week, that meant that the good, the bad, and the ugly is all used for the purpose of redemption in a way only our God can do. I can personally testify to this. My little problem with alcohol and my history of depressive episodes and my struggle with trying in vain to balance my faith and my cynicism – that stuff has come in so much more handy in ministry than the fact that I passed my seminary Greek class.

I don’t know why we have a God who has such bad taste as to use even the worst parts of us for the glory of God’s name. Or why this same God also grants us such love and joy in this life. But this is what we have. We may wish to curate a version of ourselves that we feel is worthy to be shared but God says, yes, I’ll take those shiny good things but I’d also like to use whatever it is you’re hiding behind your back right now. See, we are an either or people with a both and God for whom nothing will be lost and all will be redeemed.

This means that the same God who was present when you took your first breath – the same God who watched over your skinned knees, the God who felt absent in your young adult angst and on whose name you have called in prayer countless times, the God who has named and claimed you as God’s own, and who will also be present when you take your final breath – and redeems your life from the grave …this God will use the entire uncut footage of your lives for God’s purpose. Which is to say, nothing is lost. Nothing is wasted. The good is so good and the bad is so useful. And to the glory of God’s name it shall all be raised on the last day. Amen.

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