Where Do You Stand When Life Gets Challenging?

Preached at Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma, Washington on September 21st, 2014.
The fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, Year A

Where do you stand when life gets challenging?

Maybe you saw the video that was making the rounds on the internet this week.  It’s a BBC interview with Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby at Bristol Cathedral.  Well there was another video that went along with that one of  “person on the street” interviews that asked that question, “Where do you stand when life gets challenging?”  Who do you talk to?  Does your faith help you?  Do you pray about it?

Not surprisingly, few people said that they turn to their faith or to prayer or to God.  A few expressed a desire for a faith, for something they could believe.  Some said they talk to friends or to family.  Others that they bottle it up inside and then it comes out in stress.

In the course of the interview, the archbishop shared one of his own challenges.  Early in their marriage, their seven-month-old baby girl died in a car crash.  “No one has the resources within themselves to face something like that,” he said.  He mentioned the signs out in front of the cathedral with that question, “where do you stand when life gets challenging.”  So the interviewer asked him.  He responded, “well you don’t.  You go over; you fall over.  But then you find that Jesus is right there and picks you up and carries you.  Jesus stands with you as you continue to go through it; he doesn’t make it go away, but you find you’re not alone.”

Jesus doesn’t require that we get our lives in order first, or our theology right, or even that we pray “right” – whatever that means.  No, Jesus is there with us all along, standing with us, as we go through our challenges, helping us to get up and move forward.

Life does get challenging sometimes, for everyone.   Physical or health challenges, financial challenges, or challenges in our relationships.  And if we aren’t experiencing challenges in our personal lives, all we have to do is open a newspaper to see that we are living in challenging times – gun violence, the ebola epidemic, frightened, suffering children at our borders, and figuring out how to respond to ISIS.

Archbishop Justin talked about praying about some problem in the world, saying, “this is all very well, but isn’t about time you did something, if you exist?”  Yes, he sometimes doubts.  Doubt is part of a life of faith.

The Israelites in today’s Exodus reading doubted.  And they certainly had their share of challenges.  First it was their slavery in Egypt.  Then they had barely gotten out of town when they were backed up against the Reed Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on them.  Next thing you know, there’s no potable water – the only water source is bitter.

And now, they’re hungry with no food in sight.  And they complain.  They complain to Moses and Aaron, but really, their complaint is against God.

So often we point to their “faithlessness,” but are they?  God hears their complaining and responds, sending them quail and manna for food.  God hears their prayer!  Even though it doesn’t sound much like a “proper” prayer.  God goes with them through the desert.  They don’t have to learn to pray right first; God meets them where they are, as they are, and answers their prayer.  Each has as much as they need to eat.

The parable of the Generous Landowner and the kingdom of heaven that we heard in the gospel this morning speaks to this as well.  All of the laborers receive what they need for life.  All are welcomed fully into the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of heaven is now, it’s here.  How do we live it?

God doesn’t pro-rate grace.

It isn’t portioned out based on anything –  not on how much we deserve or how faithful we are or how long we work (or how well we work) or how well we pray.  God meets us where we are, as we are; stands with us and walks with us.  And picks us up and carries us sometimes.

Archbishop Justin recounted how when he turned his life over to Jesus, he thought it was the end of fun in his life.  Forever. He thought that Christians were all about rules – most of which begin with the word, “don’t.”  What he found, was that Christians are all about Jesus and that it usually begins with, “follow me.”

All of the laborers went to the vineyard.  All of them received God’s grace.

The archbishop also confessed that there are times when he’s not a very good Christian.  Sometimes, we’re like the laborers who work all day.  Sometimes, we’re like those who arrive at the eleventh hour.  But the thing is, even when we’re not faithful, God always is.  Jesus always is.

When we’ve gotten ourselves in exactly the wrong place, God doesn’t say, “sort yourself out and then I’ll come find you.  No, God comes alongside us and says, ‘let’s go from here.’”

God does not pro-rate grace.  God meets us where we are, as we are and stands with us as we go through whatever it is life throws at us.

Where do you stand when life get’s challenging?  Maybe a more appropriate question is,

How will you stand when life gets challenging?”

Whatever our answer, God will stand with us.

Thanks be to God.