In the Way of the Cross – Ask the First Question, Hear the Last Word

I am rarely so direct. But today's my day. Here's my message. Be brave. Be bold. Be spiritually honest. Don't hide or hesitate – mistaking it for holy. Ask the first question… and you'll hear the last word!  Oh, you might be here in the hallowed halls of the church. 'Or on your way elsewhere. Maybe alone, scared, angry, perplexed or just plain vexed. Whatever. My counsel's the same. Be bold. Ask the first question… and you'll hear the last word. Months ago, one of our own, with a child in trouble, mustered the courage to put the question: "Why do bad things happen to good/innocent people, especially children?" When trouble comes, we want to know. But we are often too timid to ask. We fear to face Heaven with what's really on our hearts. Why begs the question where. "Where was God, where is God when stuff happens, bad stuff!"

Let's not kid ourselves. Faithful folk have been wrestling with where God is and how the unwanted and unexpected happen since Eve's first son brought a girl to the house. And this first-ever, soon to be mother-in-law asked of Adam, "Where on earth did he find her?" Moms've been askin' ever since! Bad-things-to-good-people is as old as Cain and Able. Shepherd-converted-to-King David sings his answer in the psalm (107). "GIVE thanks to the Lord, for he is good. Some were sick, they cried to the Lord. He sent his word, healed them, delivered them from destruction. Thank the Lord for his steadfast love." Now, come to Jesus. Jairus did. 'With a near-dead daughter. "Sweet Jesus, make a house call, please!" Relief is on the way. Here comes Jesus. But another need comes near. Jesus stops to deal with the hurt-holding-onto-his-hem. Meanwhile Jairus paces. "Come on. P l e a s e!" Here's the Bible equal of the hospital waiting room. We know how that feels. Word comes. "Too late!" Jesus urges, "Don't fear! Just believe." Jairus holds on. Jesus lifts his daughter up. The story answers to what we ask but fear to voice, "Why bad to the good; oh, where on earth is God. What if Jesus is delayed ? Why not help me first? Why not?"

Wherever you're goin' this week, I implore you. Don't leave 'til you know where God will be. That's always our first question. God will be with you, beginning to end. O, how I wish this piddly preachin' pastor in Odenton could answer for you and all time why bad happens, especially to the sweetly innocent and often to the awfully good. In a thoroughly satisfying, head-knowing way, I cannot. 'Lord knows, many have tried. The briefest of samplings:

 

    1. Evil (pain) is the devil's doin'. Period. It's Bible. It's so. 10-4.

             But why does God fashion or allow the devil?

    2. Evil's all our makin'. It's sin and punishment, plain & simple.

             But if we're "in God's image", why choose wrong? 

    3. Evil (pain) is the place where our free (bad) choices meet God's

        pure will. But why's a perfect God allow the contradiction?

     4. Bad/evil/pain are built into the universe, random results of

         the natural order of creation, unintended by God. So, why'd

          perfect God settle for creation "very good", but not perfect?

      5. (Get this one) Not even God's perfect. Bad's a byproduct of

         what's called, "The Divine Impediment." Mercy! No comment.

 

My head is too small… to grasp a lot… much less all of this. But I take comfort to note. David didn't spell it out either. Nor Jesus. They left us no systematic theology on the subject. Instead, they just confessed what they experienced. The steadfast goodness of God in the stunning extremity of life. David's theory-less, but faith-full. "I can tell you this," he sings, "Some sick through sin, too sick to eat, draw near the gates of death. They cry to the Lord. He sends his word. 'Heals and delivers them from destruction." ('Sings like a Toby Keith song). Says David, here's all I can tell ya. God will be with you, beginning to end. I was with a mom and grandma just last week. Their beloved 23 yr. old, gone of a heart bad from birth. Why? 'In one so good, so glorying in life? Where's God? Back to David for a clue. (Ps. 139) "O LORD, you've searched me and known me, from my getting' up to sittin' down, knowin' my every way! You're hand's on me when I'm hemmed in by hurt. I don't get it! I can't get away from you, even if I go to heaven or hell! Whatever I am, you made. You knitted me inside my mom. You are awe-some, and wonder-full! You were Inspector #1 when I was being intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. And before I had my first day, you'd already jotted the date of my last in your book." My answer to the hard question of an infant on a pace-maker gone at 23? God made that heart 'best God possibly could. 'Breathed life into this Adam, just like the first. And each time he asked for another God said yes. And it was this same dying heart that gave this Adam the heart to live-life-to-the-full. And when it ceased to beat, God's heart beat the quicker to bring him home. Our whys God alone can answer. But God's where? That we can see. Beside us, in us, through us, with us, for us, beginning to end. It's OK, even spiritually critical to ask openly, the first question(s): Why/Where, God? For when we trust enough to ask, we open ourselves to hear and see God's answer(s). David knows. David sings. Jesus knows, too. And Jesus shows.

With Jesus, here's the thing. When you ask the first question, you get to hear the last word! Jesus speaks, Jesus shows, Jesus is… God's last word! Stay here all week. Head for your job in DC. Eavesdrop on the bad-guys-of-the-world at "No Such Agency". Head out for Florida. Zip off to Zimbabwe on a great big bird. Tuck your kids in and listen to their prayers. Wait in the doctor's office. Teach the teens in a class full of hormones and confusion. No matter. When you ask the first question, you get to hear the last word! Jesus IS the last word. Just ask old Jairus. He's running to Jesus for his own dear daughter's sake. And tuggin' him, "Come on!" when the world crowds in. Surely you don't think it was a silent journey. They talked. They surely did. And Jairus, I believe, let his every question and distress tumble out. And to it all, Jesus says this. Just this. The sum and substance, "Don't fear. [365/daily] Only believe." Trust, we could translate. Wait. Watch. Listen. See. At last they arrive at Jairus' front door. There's "tumult". "Commotion." (Isn't that just like us in the face of unthinkable, faith-fracturing distress?) Why and how-could-this-be saturate the air. Jesus says the child's just sleeping. He knows better. But it's an assurance that she is not beyond Jesus', not beyond GOD's reach! He enters. With the parents and his closest loves. Those I think, who have had the courage to ask the first questions. And he speaks to the child and to them in equal measure, the last word. "Little one, beloved one, child who belongs to me (as to God), arise! Get up! Get goin'! Be alive… entirely by my word." I love the Bible note, he took her by the hand. 'Bent over. 'Got up close. 'Whispered to her heart, breathed into her nostrils, like God with Adam, the 1st or that 23 yr. old. And she got up! In a flash, walkin' on those 12 year old legs again. And now the witnesses were breathless, but only 'til they themselves breathed in the last word, the life-breath Jesus comes to give. Life! Nothing and no one, and no moment, and no distance, and no parting, and no dilemma or delight… beyond God's reach, beyond God's breath, beyond God's Christ. And if you doubt it, or despair of it, do what Jesus did. What they all did together back then. Go to the cross. Bear him to the tomb. Get to the garden come Sunday morning. Ask your first questions all along the way. Go ahead. In fact, place them in the hands of Jesus and he'll hold onto them, even nailed there on that tree. And come Sunday mornin', Sunday just like this one, you and I are witness to that last best word of all. "I say to you, arise. And come. Follow and be with me!"

 

Jesus tells the parents of that 12 year old, "Get her something to eat!" Any pre-teen's parent can relate! But don't miss the message. In that little room back then, Jesus moves this child from isolation to the icebox, from rejection to the refrigerator. From dead-empty to plenty-full. That's the last word.

Just a generation ago, Scottish preacher, Arthur John Gossip's beloved wife suddenly, tragically died. Still, he went to the pulpit the following Sunday. Many hearts, like his own, were breaking. And asking, "Why? Where was God?" I treasure what he said in his sermon that day. "I don't understand this life of ours. But even less, how people in trouble and loss and grief and pain can peevishly fling away their faith, our faith. In God's name, in Jesus' name, fling to what? Haven't we lost enough without losing that, too?" (Ed.) O, When you ask the first question, you get to hear the last word!  "Rise. Come. Follow. Be with me!"

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