God is God – And I Am Not
March 13, 2005
Matt Brucker, Lay Leader
Montgomery United Methodist Church
She lay in the hospital bed, small and afraid. She appeared to be fading into the sheets, literally disappearing.
Her face was drawn and her eyes were dark and empty – more tired looking than any 27 year old girl’s face should be.
I sat at the foot of her bed in the stifling, dry heat, the room glowing orange as a result of the last few minutes of the day’s sunlight leaking in.
I gently asked her questions, trying to make small talk while at the same time making “big” talk and trying to tackle tough subjects. Her responses were slow to come. If she did allow an answer at all, I had to lean in close just to pick up whispered pieces of the words, and do the work of constructing meaningful sentences for her. She sounded like a lost little girl, without a light, in a pit, far away.
She said that she didn't think that she had a reason to live; nobody really cared what happened to her, she was just some thing in the way of others who were busy living their happy lives.
Others who believed in God, which she adamantly did not, had told her that they were praying for her. She whispered in between sobs that there had been no proof that he was hearing those prayers, and if he was, she sure couldn’t feel that her pain was any less, or that she was any less alone than she had been before “all the praying” started.
Then she said to me: "If this God of yours doesn't make me feel like there is a reason to live today, or slow the demons that are chasing me, or lessen the pains I feel right now, then I'm not interested. Save your breath.”
She continued just moments after I had stood up and said that it was time for me to go. "Where is God anyway? Is your God too busy for confused and weak girls with no friends, girls who are afraid of everything? It hurts. Help me. Help me."
Today's word is for the lost and confused. For the young and old. For anybody who has felt doubt, despair and abandonment. God has a word for you.
The word today is for you who are despairing
Those of you who have worked hard to keep a family and work together and find that you are standing on sinking sand
for those of you who are afraid to be loved or to love
for those of you who have given your lives to causes and programs and companies that have run full speed in the opposite direction of your efforts.
If we are honest, surely we have to admit that there are days when we cannot follow the bible’s advice to focus on the hope that is within us.
Some days, some years even, we find our accounts have run dry. There is no hope left, and we are ready to declare bankruptcy.
There are times when a kind word, a quick prayer, a beautiful sunset, are just not enough. Don't you despair sometimes? Don’t you just want to crawl into bed and do nothing, and hope all of your fears and troubles just go away?
A long time ago, God despaired. We heard about a specific time of his despair in this morning’s reading from Ezekiel.
It was during the time when the prophet Ezekiel was the shepherd of a flock of defeated people. He was the pastor and prophet to a congregation forced into exile in Babylon. The people were chanting:
“Our bones are dried up. Our hope is lost. We are all done, doomed.”
Ezekiel preached to his beaten-down, tired, dusty followers. Ezekiel worried that his preaching style and encouragement were not up to the task of turning around these people. He started thinking it was all up to him, and that he was in trouble.
But then, one day God dropped Ezekiel down in the middle of a valley of bones -- dried up bones.
God despaired. God took a good look at God's people and saw dried up hopes, dried up dreams and dried up congregations.
And God said to Ezekiel: "Can these bones live? Can you make them live, revive them, Ezekiel, my friend?"
Ezekiel had the wisdom and humility to not respond to God's question with a hearty “You bet I can! Watch me do my stuff!”
Rather, he said "I don't know. I don't know. Only you know, God. I give it up to you, God. You are God, and I am not."
The message today, as it was then, is that we have a God who can breathe life into our dried up bones, our dried up lives, relationships and churches.
God is God, and you are not. God is God, and I am not.
A couple of years ago, a close friend of mine was deep in despair. He began experiencing strong after effects of his divorce. Nightmares stalked his mind. Many a day, he would become so distraught that he would simply stand up at work, shuffle to his car, drive home and crawl into bed, which he referred to at the time as “the nest,” and weep for hours.
He wanted answers that could dissolve his pain. He wrote lists pages long of things he had done wrong in his marriage, things he had done right, and things that he should have done but didn’t. He’d ask me to read them and say “Tell me where the answer is in there, which line do you think explains what has happened to me?” I would sit there awkwardly, with no answers, silent, as he would crumple up the lists, retreat to his room, and sob again.
Over time, he sought different people’s advice, including a pastor and a psychiatrist, He told the people that he couldn’t sleep at night, and felt rejected by the one person he had ever thought had truly loved him. “What can I do? How can I get over this? I don’t understand what happened, what I did wrong?
“It hurts. Help me. Help me." he said.
One friend told him to put it out of his mind and think on other things because what is past is past and there is no use dwelling on history and things that you can't change. “It is what it is,” he said. Enjoy your freedom and move on.
Another friend told him not to feel guilty or like a failure in the relationship because these things happen, and he nor his ex-wife could be held accountable for this divorce. "This happens to 50% of the people that get married, take comfort that you are not alone," this friend said.
My friend visited with a pastor, and the pastor listened to the anguished tale of the unraveling of the young man’s love and life. He sat in silence, just listening with soft eyes and subtle nods of support. When the young man asked his question, "What can I do? How can I get over this? How can I move on with my life and ever trust somebody to love me again?" the pastor continued to just sit in silence.
Then the pastor put his head in his hands and wept uncontrollably, shaking his head back and forth and saying, "I don't know. I don't know how to help."
God is God, and I am not.
Together they wept for a world where things go inexplicably bad, a world that has people that can be much too mean, a world much too big and sorrowful for only one person's tears.
I believe that there are griefs we must bear, and sorrows we encounter in our lives, where the only way to get through them appears to be to cling to whatever friend happens to float by at the right time, right before we go under, and to flow down the path of life for a time on a river of tears.
At the center of our faith is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, who weeps with us all.
My friends, the resurrection came to people who were at the end of their rope the young girl in the hospital bed and the pained divorcee. The resurrection came to people who were shaking their heads and saying, "I just don't know. How will we ever recover from this one? All is lost. It hurts. Help me. Help me….."
For most Americans, Easter today has become a day to fortify our great optimism and our good fortune. A day to celebrate, a day to share in family time and meals and to count blessings.
But the first resurrection did not come to people of privilege. The resurrection came to people who were at the end of their rope, people who were devastated with no hope for the restored kingdom that they longed for.
Resurrection happened not with pipe organ music flowing, Easter lilies galore, budding trees and bursts of warm sunlight. Rather, it came in the early morning mist, while it was still too dark to see clearly, through weeping crowds that were weary with fear, confusion and uncertainty.
But it came.
It came, not because they'd found some sure-fire way to enliven the worship services on Sunday morning. It came, not because they finally got their presidential candidate elected. It came, not because their baseball team won the World Series after 86 years of “despair.”
It came because God can, and does, breathe life into dead bones. God is God.
The resurrection changed the disciples, and the world never looked the same to them again. And they found themselves remembering Jesus' words, "In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world."
We know why the world is weeping, and we are, each of and every one of us, called to stand alongside the weeping of this world. To sit at their bedsides. To weep with them and to hand them a tissue or, if need be, a towel. To hug, even if we aren’t “a hugger.” Simply put, to love and remind people that God is an awesome God.
You who are weeping, whatever the source of your pain and despair, hear this news. You who have bones that are in need of Godly re-charging, hear this news.
Christ came for you.
Resurrection is about the breath of God's spirit that breathes life into us and calls us forth to keep on believing in and doing his work.
Jesus did not leave us with an empty longing. Jesus Christ left us with light and hope, the spirit of seeing in a way that the world cannot see. The disciples began to see it. They began to see it in the dim mist of what had started as a devastating morning. Christ lives on in our hearts and in our lives.
In thanks, my friends, we will do well each and every day to bring this good news to the afflicted and those whose faith is shaken. While it is most certainly true that God is God, and we are not, we can minister to others and share the word.
I used to think that only ministers ministered. You know, ordained ministers that went to Seminary and the like.
But the truth is, while most of us are not ordained, and obviously none of us are God, we all have the ability and obligation to minister, to love, to steer people to the one who can help.
Whether it be by resting our hand on a person’s shoulder at work just to let them know we sense their troubles, or handing them a towel while they sob, or sitting at the end of their bed piecing together thoughts for them because they are too weak and lost to do themselves, we are ministering.
We can be a life raft they cling to on the river of tears, and we can lead them to the Lord our God, who will know what to do. While we can’t breathe life into dry bones, we can be a conduit for the one who most surely can and does, all the time.
Thanks be to God. Christ is risen. Let us go and tell the others. Let us minister.
A postscript to the story of our divorced friend sobbing in his “nest.” It is two years later, and God has breathed life into his bones. He who was lost and floating through life on a river of tears is to be married next week. It is my honor, and a blessing, to stand by him as his best man, and no longer as the one who hands him the sobbing towel.