Proper 16B’21
22 August 2021
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the LORD will deliver him out of them all. Amen.”  – Psalm 34.19

In preparing my sermon it dawned on me just how disappointing God is! Yes, you heard me right. Not the typical opening line for a sermon but one that I hope you’ll find some comfort in, especially if you have ever been disappointed with God. There are as many ways of being disappointed with God as there are people.

There can be disappointment with God in our jobs and our finances. Perhaps you’ve worked hard, prayed hard all the while asking God to open up the door for that promotion, only to see it handed to someone whom you believed was much less deserving or qualified. ‘Why did you let them get it Lord?’ Perhaps you went to see a Financial Planner to make sure you invested in all the right stocks only to lose thousands upon thousands of dollars in a market when it took a nose dive. ‘Why didn’t you warn me God?’

We can experience disappointment with God in our relationships. We get married to the love of our lives and remain faithful to our vows, only to learn that they have been cheating on us, ‘God, why did this happen, I never cheated on them once!’ Or a tragedy befalls our adult children. Or perhaps you eat a healthy diet, exercise daily and when you go for your physical you receive a disheartening diagnosis. ‘That’s so unfair! Thanks a lot – God!’

Then there is all manner of things that can befall our children, from health problems and learning disabilities, to poor relationship choices that threaten to destroy your dreams for them. ‘God why? Why did this have to happen to my sweet baby?’ On and on we could go with our litanies, lamenting the fact that somehow (at least in our opinion) God failed to come through at crucial moments in our lives.

This flies in the face of much of the theology that many of us have internalized. It goes something like this: “If I’m a Christian, and endeavor to live a good life, then God won’t let these bad things happen to me.” Some prosperity preachers have promised us financial and material abundance if we can just say or do the right things.

Some of us were taught growing up that if we “simply follow Jesus he would make everything better”. False religious beliefs can set us up for huge disappointment. In fact one of the most committed atheists I’ve ever met was a former fundamentalist Christian. They had followed what they believed to be the formula of the Christian faith and when the formula failed, they were done with God and the Church.

But my friends where did we ever get the idea that God was a formula, and where did we ever get the idea that following God was like having our own personal genie who hovers around waiting to grant out every wish? Perhaps our disappointment can be the doorway through which we find the true God, rather than the god we have created for ourselves.

Another one of my favorite movies is Bruce Almighty. Bruce, played by comedic actor Jim Carrey, becomes very put out with God and frequently complains to God about the poor job he thinks God is doing. One day God, played by Morgan Freeman appears dressed in a white suit and tells Bruce that he has heard his complaints and gives him the unique opportunity to run the world.

At first Bruce was exhilarated by his newly acquired powers, he could fly, move objects, he even decided that he would give his dogs the ability to use the toilet (in the standing position). Then all of a sudden, he becomes overwhelmed by the millions of voices that were coming to him in prayer asking for God’s help from winning the lottery to curing their loved ones diseases. He started out trying to answer each request one at a time by using his computer. Finally, he becomes frustrated and begins typing “yes” to everyone’s request after all isn’t that what everyone wants to hear from God?! This manages to create fires, homicides, vehicle accidents and generalized chaos. In the end he realizes that being God is way above his pay grade and he gladly surrenders to the real God.

In the midst of an extended pandemic, if we find ourselves disappointed with God, we can take some comfort in hearing about Jesus’ disappointed disciples in today’s gospel reading. Jesus revealed that there was a whole other side to him and it wasn’t meek or mild, in fact it was just plain wild. ‘What do you mean eat my body, and drink my blood’, the disciples asked themselves. Many of the followers of Jesus couldn’t stomach his teaching about his body and blood and stopped following him. As long as the healing and feeding miracles were going on there were many followers, but when Jesus began to speak of sacrifice and suffering being a part of the package, they left to pursue more positive teachers, who could offer a less difficult path.

The unvarnished truth is that if we decide to follow Christ it will cost us. There will be periods of confusion when nothing seems to make any sense, pain and suffering will not go around us but it will land right on top of us, and sometimes in spite of the fact that we’ve have been striving to live a faithful life.

There is a story from the life of St. Teresa of Ávila, the great 15th cen. Spanish mystic and nun which illustrates our human tendency to be disappointed with God. As the story goes, Teresa and a few of sister nuns were travelling to a distant convent, when she fell off her horse while crossing a cold stream. The current was so strong, she lost her footing and was almost carried away. When Teresa complained about the constant trials in her life, the Lord replied, “Do not complain, daughter, for it is ever thus that I treat My friends.”  Teresa responded with her typical sense of humor, “Ah, Lord, it is also on that account that Thou hast so few!”  In more modern English, she yelled at God; “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.”

But modern writer Dallas Willard reminds us that there’s a flip side, something he referred to as, “the cost of non-discipleship” of not following Christ: “Non-discipleship costs abiding peace, a life penetrated throughout by love, faith that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good, hopefulness that stands firm in the most discouraging of circumstances, power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil. In short. It costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10.10).”[1]

After the large crowd of followers had gone home Jesus turned to the twelve and asks: “Do you also wish to go away?” You can just hear the forlorn tone in his voice and then Peter, who, never at a loss for words, and in one of his more eloquent moments says: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter had found the true Messiah, not the one of false and hollow promises but the only one really worth following the one who promised to be with him and he’s the one who promises to be with us, no matter what happens, and who has the very words of eternal life. Amen.




[1] Dallas Willard in Devotional Classics, p.16