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Pentecost 2A Sermon
Romans 5: 1-8
June 18, 2017


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

At the end of the day last Monday, the phone rang here at the church and Phyllis told me that someone named, “Pamela” wanted to speak to a Pastor. I have received these calls countless times before, and I always try to discern what the need is on the other end of the phone as I listen, and if we can help or if the CRC or LSS can help … or if none of us are going to be able to offer what the person is asking for.

Pamela began to talk and I could only understand about two-thirds of what she was saying. At first thought I thought she was under the influence of either alcohol or some kid of drug. But remembering the training I had when I ushered at Nationwide Arena – that we cannot assume this to be true just in case the person is suffering from some kind of health issue or a side effect from medication – I reserved judgment. She painted a very dismal picture of life for her husband and her. I cannot remember all of the afflictions that her husband was suffering, but I do know that she said that she had been in many automobile accidents and had broken her back 5 times. That she can’t have surgery – either medically she can’t or she just doesn’t think she can go through it. As my mind tried to guess at what Pamela was going to ask me for, she told about a dream she had where God came to her and promised her that he was going to transport her back in time, to before the first of her many accidents occurred which led to her constant pain. When she asked God why he was going to do this, he said it was because he loved her so much and didn’t want to see her suffer.

Finally, in slurred speech, she asked me, “Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe that God can do anything? Do you believe that this could actually happen, that I can be taken back in time to before all of this happened? As I processed this question my first response to myself was relief – I wasn’t going to have to tell this person who was sharing a story of so much pain and trouble that there was really nothing I could do to help her financially … as I presumed she was going to ask. But then I realized that my honest, truthful response was going to sound just as harsh. I told her that I do believe that God works miracles, usually through doctors and medical technology, but sometimes ones which defy the laws of science and nature. Then I said, “I really don’t think that God will do this for you … I don’t think it is possible for God to do this. This just isn’t how God works in things. God promises to be with us in our pain, not to magically transport us or “rapture us” away to escape the consequences of tragic events in our lives. She sheepishly listened to my words with obvious disappointment, thanked me and hung up the phone.
It was with that conversation on my mind that I read the scripture for this morning’s worship service, especially our second lesson from Romans 5: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God … and not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Paul captures the very sentiment that I was trying to share with Pamela on the phone. It is not God’s modus operandum to magically whisk us away when pain or struggles strike. That is why we Lutherans have so many problems with the teaching of a pre-millenial rapture, where God’s faithful people are whisked away into heaven before the 1000 year long tribulation, which is alluded to in the book of Revelation. No, God’s M.O. is to provide peace in the midst of the sufferings and challenges that we have so that we may endure all things, build character, and have our hope sustained. I struggled with that for a while this week – having to break that news to a woman I didn’t know, who was obviously suffering from constant pain; only having the message that God is with her in all of her suffering, and that we have hope in God. I started to question if that is truly good news to someone like Pamela. Then I was reminded of someone else who would never, ever ask to be transported back in time to before he encountered pain and suffering first hand.
Since it is Father’s Day weekend, ESPN re-ran one of their, “E-60” pieces that first broadcast back in February. It was all about Ernie Johnson Jr. – the son of former Braves relief pitcher and radio broadcast man Ernie Johnson Sr. and the father of four children, two his own biological kids, and two who were adopted from orphanages in Romania and Paraguay. Ernie is the host of TNT network’s NBA show. He stands out in his duties, sitting alongside former NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Charles Barclay, he has been described as their, “perfect foil … that white suburban neighbor.” But those three African-American athletes know that it is Ernie who makes the show work. He has their respect, and Ernie works tirelessly to prepare for every broadcast.

One of Ernie’s great regrets is that he just missed being home when his father passed away because he was broadcasting a golf match. He still beats himself up over it, even after surviving 6 rounds of chemotherapy to treat non-hodgkins lymphoma. With that regret in on their minds, Ernie’s family was insistent that when Michael, the son who they brought home from a Romanian orphanage with multiple developmental disabilities, digestive problems and a form of Muscular Distrophy, was rushed into the hospital crashing at age 26, they knew that they had to do everything they could to keep him alive. To do so, they had to put a tube through his trachea so that he could breath. Not only did Michael survive until Ernie got to the hospital, but he is still alive today. Sure, he has that trach tube to breathe through; sure they have to suction out his lungs because he isn’t strong enough to cough or expel saliva on his own. Sure, he takes about an hour to get him ready in the morning between the bathroom situation, getting him dressed and all of the other things that need to be done. But the whole time he is doing these things for Michael, Ernie keeps telling him, “I just love you so much.” And Michael keeps answering him, “I just love you so much.” The highlight of the year is when the car show comes to Atlanta and Ernie and Michael go together. I encourage you, if you have access to a computer, search for the ESPN story on Ernie Johnson. But make sure you have a box of Kleenex with you …

Two things that Ernie said brought to light the many ways that God’s modus operandum is much better than time travelling someone back to when things were better. He said, “Whenever fear and pain come knocking at the door, there is also faith, hope and trust telling them to get out.” He also said about his son, Michael, “He is perfectly and wonderfully made …” This is the way that God works in our lives. Not to rapture us away, but to dispel fear with faith, hope and love. No matter what our lives are like, to show us that we are perfectly and wonderfully made. This is how God the Father works. We might not always like it, it might not be how we would do it if we were God … but it is the best way. Thanks be to God, our perfect heavenly father. Thanks be to God for those who have been put into our lives to love us as they can. Thanks be to God for the gift of hope which never disappoints. Amen.