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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Good News in Bad Times


"Beyond Catastrophe" by John Skaggs
(Detail)

This painting was inspired by David James Randolph in "More Candles in the Dark: Going From Heartbreak to Healing"

"The extraordinary action of the first responders is the ground of our hope because it awakens in us the courage to go on with our lives against overwhelming odds because of a love greater than fear."

The Good News is that in Jesus Christ, God meets us in our highest hopes and in our deepest fears. How does this Good News address the bad times of current catastrophe? All of us struggle with this question, and preachers and worship leaders will speak to it in sermons and meditations on Sunday, September 11, 2016 near the fifteenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.

Join us here as we explore this theme with special reference to the Lectionary texts for the day:

Psalm 149
Ezekiel 33:7-11
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

We welcome sermon concerns, art and poetry and comments relating to specific contexts.

Below is David's sermon for the day in first draft.  Your feedback is welcome.

GOOD NEWS IN BAD TIMES  
For Sept. 11, 2016 
By David Randolph ©2016
Bible (RCL) Ezekiel 33.7-11, Psalm 149, Romans 13.8-14, Matthew 18.15-20

The good news is that in Jesus Christ God meets us in our highest hopes and in our deepest fears. The real presence of God in Jesus Christ is the heart of the Christian faith and speaks to the heart of human experience personally and socially.

Our highest hopes are expressed in Psalm 149 when God is praised. Our deepest fears are expressed in Ezekiel when all has gone wrong.

In our times human fears are sinking to depths of historic proportions that are truly catastrophic. A “new normal” has emerged since 9/11/2001 bringing us to this catastrophic crisis. Still mourning the South Korea Sewol Ferry disaster that the NY Times called “An epic tragedy”, war after war is breaking out and people are breaking down in unprecedented numbers.

WHAT ARE WE TO SAY AND DO WHEN TRAGEDY IS PILED UPON TRAGEDY INTO CATASTROPHE? 
We can bear witness that just when we can not bear it anymore there it is, in the midst of it all, Jesus says “For where two or three are gathered in my name.  I am there among you.” (Matthew)

WE TURN TO GOD IN HOPES AND FEARS AND NEVER TURN IN VAIN.
The name of God is invoked almost universally in catastrophe either for help or to damn and be blamed for it. The Bible offers examples of both but affirms the value of turning go God in prayer, meditation, lamentations, songs and poems and worship.  Current experience demonstrates the enduring value of such from candle light vigils to Makeshift memorials.

GOD WILLS THE GOOD BUT NOT EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IS GOD’S WILL.
That God wills the good is a fundamental of biblical faith from Genesis to the Revelation. This is explicit in Romans 8.28: In everything God works for good with those who love him…”
This assures us of God’s presence in everything that happens but not that everything that happens is God’s will. For example, when children died as reported in Matthew 18.14, some said that it was God’s will. Jesus flatly rejected this claim and declared, “It is NOT the will of your father in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Jesus saw that sinful man caused the harm inflicted upon these children and they should be held accountable. 

The death of 304 people mostly children in the sinking of the Sewol ferry of South Korea on April 16, 2014 was overwhelming for the families of those lost the whole nation and indeed the whole world. As more was learned about the disaster tragedy piled upon tragedy in catastrophe that left almost everyone stunned and speechless. A Korean friend of mine told me that then some claimed that the disaster must be the will of God and must be accepted. But others rose up and said No! This is not the will of God and we will not just accept it. We must find what and who caused this disaster, hold them accountable and in honor of these lost do everything to see that such disasters do not happen again. By late July some three months after the disaster the underlying source of the disaster was the business tycoon who put profit above safety for the vessel. He was finally found dead and dishonored. The nation still mourns as it continues to seek justice but it does so with the assurance that God is present to comfort not punish them.  All around the world people join their South Korean brothers and sisters in prayer and support and gratitude for helping us see that it is not the will of God that one child shall perish. 

NOTHING THAT HAPPENS CAN ULTIMATELY DEFEAT GOD’S WILL.
This advances our understanding. Not everything that happens is God’s will but nothing that happens can ultimately defeat God’s will. Lesley Weatherhead who was a chaplain in WWI and ministered in London through the blitz of WWII remains a great advocate of this truth. Again and again he saw the forces of destruction devastating the people and the places, the nation and the church he loved. But again and again and again he saw the Creator at work with co-creative forces until from tragedy came triumph and the forces of liberty prevailed. A powerful symbol of this lay in the ruins of the church that was bombed when it was celebrating its Harvest Home Thanksgiving service. Everything seemed lost and many gave up hope. Then, spring came and the altar burst into bloom with flowers whose seeds had lain dormant under the ashes. The words of the prophet proved true, God gave beauty for ashes.  As declared, “God makes even the wrath of men to please him.”
Throughout history evil cries in a loud voice but God has he last word. This is our faith. 

HEROIC PEOPLE EMERGE IN THE MIDST OF DISASTER. 
The First Responders, rescue workers, fire fighters, police, chaplains and religious leaders and others who risked their lives and in many cases lost them to save others greatly inspire us from 9/11/2001. They challenge our common value that the purpose of life is to succeed with the uncommon value that the greater purpose of life is to serve. Greater love is to lay down our lives for our friend. The heroes of 9/11/2001 and other disasters awaken the Hero and Heroine in our own souls and lives everyday.

WE ARE ALL CALLED TO BE BUILDERS AND NOT BOMBERS.
None of us can be mere spectators to catastrophe. We are either on the side of the builders or that of the bombers. The image of suicide bombers with explosives bound to their bodies is chilling. They are willing to die for heir faith. Are we willing to live for ours? Babies were being born even as the buildings we burning. They are signs of new life.  We must lift them up for blessing not for burning by consecrating ourselves anew to the way of sacred love. We have the resources. Now we must find the will to follow the Way.

This is a challenge that seems overwhelming but we dare to undertake it because we are not alone. As the Gospel for the day reminds us Wherever two or three are gathered in His name Jesus Christ is in our midst. And the Gospel for everyday is that in Jesus Christ God meets us in our highest hopes and in our deepest fears.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


* * *

Recommended:

Breaking News:
Highly-recommended 
"Songs Unchanged,
Yet Ever-Changing:
50 Hymn Texts"
by Jacque B. Jones,
GIA Publications, Inc.,
7404 S. Mason Ave.,
Chicago, IL 60638
www.giamusic.com 

esp. page 110 "We Look Upon Our Enemies"

1) "On the Way After 9/11: New Worship and Art" by David James Randolph

Sermons, meditations, affirmations and art.

New Way Media
Available from Amazon

2) "World of Change" edited by David Madgalene

Poetry and meditations.

New Way Media
Available from Amazon

3)  "On the Way After 9/11" movie 
(approximately 2-and-a-half minutes)





Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“WHAT SURVIVES THE WORST?”

Painting by John Skaggs
 ARTISTS ANSWER 9/11 2001-2012.

Painters, photographers, poets and writers present a weekend 
of visual art, poetry, music and literary appreciation. 
Hosts and MC’s: 
David James Randolph, David Madgalene and Rev. Dr. Sam Parks. 
Artists and presenters: 
Don Hazen, Mollie Hazen, Kirk Lumpkin, John Skaggs, 
Rebecca Skaggs, and Lyn Talkovsky.
Friday, September 7 through Sunday, September 9, 2012.
Saturday, September 8, 2012: 2 pm to 6 pm.
Sunday: 10 am to 5 pm.
Saturday and Sunday Free and Open to the Public. Donations accepted.
Friday, September 7, 2012: 5:15 pm to 7:30 pm (By invitation).
The Albany United Methodist Church, 
980 Stannage Ave. (at Marin Ave.; one block off Solano Ave.),
 Albany, California 94706.
Sponsors include the Center for the Arts, Religion and Education (CARE), affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union (GTU).
Contact: David Madgalene, davidra @ sonic.net