Pastor Roger confronts one of the most common explanations for hardship, “Everything happens for a reason”.

Really?  During the sermon, he showed a TEDTalk by Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved. 

This week’s service was not broadcast on Facebook, but the audio is attached.

Does Everything Happen for A Reason?
Psalm 51  Romans 8:26-28

Since I haven’t been driving much during the pandemic, I’ve gotten out of the habit of a weekly fill-up at the Arco station.

The problem is that I stopped paying attention and so a couple of times I didn’t notice how low on gas I’d gotten until I was “running on fumes,” as they say.

But if I don’t put gas in the tank, eventually I’ll sputter to the side of the road and stop.

Our spiritual lives are the same: if we stop paying attention we start sputtering along or even running out of gas – and sometimes we don’t notice until we find ourselves in a crisis of some sort.

There is an unspoken promise implicit in American culture and long espoused by American Protestantism that if we have enough faith, work hard and live a pure life we’ll be blessed in return … and by blessed we usually mean with health and wealth.

If we buy into that belief, then when difficulty or tragedy comes our way, somehow that is either because of a failure on our part – like not having enough faith – or it must be part of God’s plan.

How many of you have been told, “Everything happens for a reason”?

Sure, that’s as American as apple pie.

But really?

Try peddling that one down in the oncology ward at Children’s Hospital.

But the often-quoted Romans 8:28 doesn’t quite say that.

Romans 8:28   And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God can use what He did not choose.

That doesn’t necessarily mean God caused our problem with a purpose in mind … He might.

I think there are some issues that God’s put right in my face because I needed to work through them – but most of the big issues we face are just the stuff of human life.

Regardless of the cause, God remains with us in the midst of whatever happens.

Now, understand that God isn’t rewarding our faith by giving us a blessing.

This isn’t a spiritual barter system – if you love me then I’ll bless you.

Rather, we are more or less able to sense His care and have developed the trust to follow His lead depending on how aware we are of God’s presence.

Like any relationship, this takes time and consistency to develop.

People suddenly turning to God as they sit in the ER waiting room are often disappointed – it’s like God is a stranger to them, and when He doesn’t drop in and rescue them they ask, “Why is God doing this to me?”

God doesn’t draw near to reward our faith, He’s already near.

So, we experience more of God as we clear away distractions and cultivate our awareness of His presence.

Knowing that God is right here walking with you can give you the strength and grace to walk through troubles and to come out the other side blessed by new insights, a new sense of purpose, or renewed heart – a million different ways you come out the other side with God’s blessing.

But there are some common things that blind us to God’s presence here and now so that we miss the blessing or the opportunity – and the first is the dark power of secrets.

Relationship with the Lord is just that: a relationship, and relationships require trust, and trust requires honesty.

Some years back I was counseling a couple from outside our congregation who complained that they had lost the intimacy of their marriage.

They had started out with promises of a shared life, but five or so years in they described their marriage as two strangers living in the same house.

The problems they presented to me were superficial and could be resolved with a little discussion and compromise, but after resolving one small issue another would take its place and they obstinately remained stuck, each blaming the other.

When I spoke to them individually each revealed a secret that they were holding back from the other.

One was a secret financial debt they’d carried into the marriage and the other was a betrayal of their marriage vows.

Neither person was willing to reveal their secret to their partner, each insisting that they could handle it without what they rationalized would hurt the other person.

But those secrets – and the layers of lies they used to protect them – had become invisible barriers to moving close to each other.

As they say in 12 Step, “We are only as sick as our secrets.”

So, they had lost trust, grew distant, lost intimacy and no Caribbean cruise was going to fix them.

Secrets unconfessed are like an invisible dark power, and I heard a few years later that they had divorced.

It’s the same with God

Honesty with God begins with my confessing what’s really going on inside my head and heart.

Does God already know?

Sure, but honesty builds trust.

That’s why we have time of confession, like those based on Psalm 51 or in our Responsive Prayer of Confession today.

And that’s why I so often remind us to include in our private prayers a simple statement to God of what we are really feeling.

Start your prayer with honesty.

“God, I’m angry today.”

“God, I don’t feel your presence with me.”

“God, I really don’t know why I bother praying.”

“God, I’m at my wit’s end about this or that.”

Maybe you can think of other things that create a distance between you and God.

Of course, we often talk about how career, search for status or approval and such things can displace God in our life.

But let me mention one other thing: resentments.

For years I was angry at my parents.

For all sorts of reasons that don’t matter, I couldn’t forgive them for not being what I wanted them to be.

By the time I was a young adult, I was blaming them for what was not working in my life.

But to blame is to be lame … and I was limping bad.

My resentment owned me.

My parents’ shortcomings became my “go to” justification for my personal problems and failures.

I could act like a victim of my life circumstances and have a ready excuse – my mom and dad’s failures as parents.

Counseling helped me, but ultimately it was coming to church that allowed me to painfully face what I had done and how my resentment and cynicism had left no room for God in my life.

I also had to confess that the more my life felt out of control, the more I had exaggerated their shortcomings as parents.

Not only was that giving me a justification for why life wasn’t going so well, but it blinded me from seeing that they were good people struggling just like the rest of us.

And tragically, I was unable to give them the love and appreciation they deserved while they were still alive.

Theologically, I had put my resentments onto the throne where God belonged – and where my resentments guided me was nowhere good … but once I could bring God into focus that changed.

Did God already understand all this?

Of course, but for there to be a trusting relationship, I had to get honest with God and myself about what I had let happen.

Maybe you can think of some old resentments you’ve hung onto that have crowded out God and exerted control over your life.

If we are authentic with God, then confession becomes more than getting something off our chest.

It is getting sin off our life’s throne so we can then put God back there where He belongs so that whatever comes our way, we can draw on God’s Wisdom and experience the divine love that holds us.

Confession can clear our muddied, self-defensive vision to see God as work.

Video Everything Happens for A Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved

I’m quite sure that God did not give Kate cancer so she could write a book about it.

“Feel good” theologies fail us.

Promises from pulpits that put us rather than God in the driver’s seat fail us.

But Jesus’ promise is that he walks with us so that we can lean on him when we feel weak, and follow him through troubled times.

The horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic have turned many people to search for spiritual understanding.

While organized religion has continued its decline, during the past year the word “prayer” was Googled more times than ever before in ninety different countries.

People are searching, and the more we cultivate and freshen our daily relationship with God, the more we will know He’s always near.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in 1930s Germany who eventually had to take a stand against the horrors of Hitler’s regime.

In a time when many church leaders remained silent, Bonhoeffer tried to stop Hitler, for which he was imprisoned and martyred.

You wouldn’t think he’d feel much to be grateful for.

Yet in Life Together he writes,

“We prevent God giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.

“We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good.  Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious….

“Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things.”

God’s blessings do not always mean health and wealth … but they are always with us anyway.

Practicing gratitude opens our awareness to the blessings that are everywhere.

I want to close by sharing a little poem I give you every few years – few things have affected me as much as these words:

Normal Day.

Let me hold you while I may for it will not always be so.

One day I am going to dig my fingers into the earth,
or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself taut or stretch my arms to the sky
and want nothing more than your return.

Normal Day.