Palm/Passion Sunday, 3/20/05

The Predicament of God
Matthew 21: 8-9; 27: 15-23

o stand by and watch His Son tortured must have even been wrenching for God. I don't think that I could have allowed it. Neither of our daughters have ever been abused by anyone. There is a story that may help us understand the predicament of God. A Railroad Switcher, back in the days when a man had to manually switch the tracks for oncoming trains to be able to go in the correct direction, a Switcher went out to turn an oncoming passenger train north. This was critical since the southbound bridge was out. But as he was ready to manually pull the big control he saw his small son playing on the northbound track. Instantly he had to decide, whether the sacrifice his son, or to allow the massive train loaded with many passengers to be totally destroyed by running off into the river. He did what he had to do, and stood there watching.

God did not step in to save His Son, but He saved us!

From the Cross we hear the most haunting, yet revealing words of Christ, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27: 46). This reflects our human predicament as we too face in times of pain and adversity. Some in this Sanctuary have experienced the dark valley of perhaps the most horrendous pain of losing a son or daughter. Giving up any loved one is almost unbearable. It is sometimes soothing to recall that God Almighty also gave up his son.

All of us have suffered with two Florida families who have been in headline news every day this week. Both are struggling to deal with the pain of losing a child. After a search of several weeks nine-year old Jessica Lunsford's precious body was found just yesterday. Her father was deeply grieved, but he was able to say, “I love everybody who has prayed and searched and had not given up hope, until now. But still there is hope, we prayed that she could come home, but she has gone to another home.”

And then there are the parents of Terri Schiavo who have stood by her bedside for fifteen years. Their daughter was brain-damaged in an accident but her parents still cling to the life they feel that she still has. There is something humane in our hearts that always chooses life, especially when it is your child's life.

The subject of ending the life of a person that seemed brain dead came up at a dinner party attended by Winston Churchill. One of the guests said that she would want the doctors to end her life if she were just “a vegetable.” Sir Winston spoke up and said, “But that is a life and we must always choose life.”

As Good Friday comes this week it will find these heart broken parents huddled at the bedside of their daughter, much like Mary, John the Beloved and a few others, who knelt and prayed at the Cross while Jesus was dying. It must further distressed hurt these faithful few to hear the public outcry many of the citizens of Jerusalem shouting, “Crucify Him!”

During times of intense psychological stress we can sometimes feel abandoned by God. Survivors of extreme agony have reported that as they endured their torture they waffled between the assurance of God, and abandonment. For example, the acceptance of one's impending death seldom follows the stages that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross taught us in her widely heralded best seller from a few years ago; On Death and Dying . This is especially true when a person is being tortured, or if a parent has to witness the agony of their child. Suffering causes extreme emotions.  Jesus Himself modulated from the peaceful acceptance of, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” to the terror of asking, “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” It is only natural to question God's care for us when we are dying, or standing by the death bed of a precious one. Jesus experienced the fullness of our human predicament.

But why did He have to be crucified? Could not the Father have found some other way to bridge the gap between him and sinful humanity? Since God is God He could have simply snapped His fingers and declared that all humankind now has their sins forgiven. After all, thousands of the citizens of Jerusalem had, just five days prior, welcomed Jesus in a Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem by waving Palm branches and calling him their Savior and Messiah.

An automatic and universal plan for salvation would have been enough for God, but not for us. We are the ones who needed a real life story to be acted out. We needed an event, a visible drama of a means of reconciliation and healing of the breach caused by our inbred Original Sin.

When I was in seminary a popular book was published that might explain the predicament that God was in. Nathan Cline, M.D. penned a best seller entitled From Sad to Glad . I had forgotten that it was written to explain that most mental illnesses, including depression, could be cured by the careful use of prescription drugs like Prozac, Zoloft and Thorazene. In other words, a sad person could be made glad by the re-alignment of one's chemical balances. However, as it turned out drugs were not the easy answer that we once thought. In times of deep pain we need something more. That something more is the reconciliation that is made possible through a person's understanding of what God was displaying in sending His Son to die for us. His pain became our means of receiving forgiveness and a new jumpstart in life.

We bring great joy to our Heavenly Father God whenever we receive His offer. During this Holy Week we re-enact God great pageant of salvation. I pray that we all will feel like re-enactors of that drama as we kneel at the Cross.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
Palm/Passion Sunday, 3/20/05