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Saturday, April 17, 2010

on the right track

This week there is no regular sermon at Trinity. The “Trinity Players” are presenting “Something Fishy in Galilee”, a little play I wrote a few years ago based on a resurrection story from the 21st chapter of John’s Gospel.
I thought I would share with you part of a sermon I wrote this week to deliver at a funeral. The man who died had a fascinating life story, but it was also a story with some unfortunate turns. It seemed important to speak about God’s forgiving grace.

Tom’s latest project was in the basement. A whole room was being devoted to the layout of an N Gauge railway. This was an old passion of Tom’s that he was finally finding time to work on, and Louise and Tom were planning to complete it together.

I have friends who are quite involved in model railroading. It’s seems like there is a sense of peace and a degree of comfort in being able to build a little world, in which things work in predictable ways, and if they don’t, you can probably fix them. Life beyond the models does not often follow even our best laid plans.

Life is hard. That is true for most people I have met. Everyone has hardship, and sorrow, and everyone’s life has times when the train goes off the rails. Real life is not as easy to fix as a model train set.

At least with the trains you get catalogues and instruction manuals, that tell you what fits where, and where you can get spare parts when you need them. I was going to say that there really is no instruction manual for real life- but that is not entirely true. Depending on how we grow up, we read the living instructions that are written all over the lives of the people we know. We learn from examples, good and bad. We are shaped and influenced by other people. Also depending on how we grow, we may have some sense of faith- some ideas about God.

A few years ago there was a big fad for these little bracelets that people wore, that had the initials WWJD printed on them. The letters stood for “What would Jesus do?”, and the idea was that when faced with a decision, or a moral issue, or a time when we just did not see a clear track to follow, we should simply ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”, and then do it- or not do the wrong thing, depending on the situation.

There is some merit in asking ourselves the WWJD question, but frankly, I think the better question is, “How does God love?”. In my own life there have been times when I felt helpless to do the “right” thing, and I have hurt myself, and others. There have also been times when other people have hurt me. They may not have wanted to- but it happened anyway.

Dwelling on the right thing to do can lead us to spending a lot of time judging ourselves, and judging others. That’s why I think the better question is about love, and grace. Grace is the capacity God gives us, to forgive ourselves when we have messed up, and to forgive others, when their choices have hurt us.

Love and grace are what makes life in the real world possible. Because life is hard, and people do not always know what to do, and we have to find a way to carry on, even after the hurtful times. I believe Jesus came to teach people that God’s love and grace are limitless, and there is always the possibility of new life, beyond the pain and hard feelings.

I mentioned when I introduced the reading from Psalm 139 that God is always with us. God knows us from the inside. God knows our strengths, and weaknesses, and our noble plans, our best intentions. God also knows that life is hard.

God is with us when we were at our best, and in the other times. And God has loved us through it all. God has been with Tom since before he was born. God was with him for every breath, every step, every moment of his life. God cried with Tom as he lived through hardships, and celebrated with him in the joyous times. God was with Tom when he died, and in death, Tom has gone to be with God. Thanks be to God.