Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
September 2, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
I was looking for God in our world this week; here are two stories that made me wonder:
A 26-year old woman, after wrestling 2 hours with whether to continue living, leapt 160 feet off the Ship Canal Bridge in Seattle to the cold, dark water below. Motorists passing her in the morning rush hour shouted, "Jump," "Life's a bitch" and "Get it over with." She survived and cards, calls, letters, flowers and gifts have arrived from all over the country telling her people do care. A "most livable" city ponders what has happened to its sense of decency and caring.
Ronald Maris, director of the Center for the Study of Suicide at the University
of South Carolina noted how people tend to get impatient with suicides.
Most suicide attempts happen at home, Maris said, and when one takes place
in a public place, passers-by feel put upon, as if the person is asking
for some response from them, almost like a panhandler tugging on their coats.
"They feel it's intentional -- `You did it to yourself, why do you want
us to get involved in this?' " Maris said. "It's like people are saying,
`This is not the way it's supposed to be. You're supposed to go home, go
to your bedroom, get drunk and shoot yourself.' "
And not block traffic.
Seattle University's Dick Cunningham, who helps train theology students
was quoted in a Seattle Times article about the responses to the woman jumping.
He said he worries about our compassion and sense of community.
We have concern for the unborn, yet we treat a live person callously, Cunningham said. "The passers-by have lost any sense of who they are and their relationship to other people. ... The only thing that gives life meaning is that they're late."
Last Wednesday at 12:52am, James Elledge, 58, died, 13 minutes after injected with a combination of 4 drugs at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Elledge murdered Elois Fitzner in April 1998 inside a church whose community had welcomed him after he was released on parole from the Monroe Correctional Complex. A small group of congregants gathered at the Lighthouse church on the night of Elledge's execution praying for Fitzner. They also prayed for Elledge. Elledge, in his will said the following: "I commit myself to God's care, secure in His love for me and trusting in the salvation purchased for me through the suffering and death of His Son, Jesus Christ."
The brother of the woman who was murdered said he saw the murder as a "Good Samaritan" killing, since his sister had tried to help others down on their luck without regard to her own safety. The pastor of the church compared the crime in the church that had befriended Elledge to Judas' betrayal of Jesus. The director of a detention ministry leading a candlelight vigil in protest of the execution said, "Tomorrow, we wake up and start trying to figure out a way that we don't have to come back to Walla Walla for another execution."
Where is God in all this? Is God an old man with a beard sitting in the clouds looking down at all of this shaking his head? Did God say "I'll save that young women so the people of Seattle will realize to what low levels of humanity they have sunk?" Is God going to bring wrath upon those who hollered at her to jump? Was God watching Elledge die remembering the moments when the murdered woman breathed her last breaths? Does God watch the candlelight of the death penalty protestors thinking of his commandment to God's people to love and forgive one another and wondering why the numbers of people protesting there are small? Does God wonder how the church community will ever again trust enough to befriend an outsider?
Our answers to "Where is God is all this?" are governed by our imaging of God. When we try to define God we mostly use adjectives and nouns: source, rock, cloud, shelter, light, judge, shepherd, savior, stillness, love. We personalize God with pronouns: "He is my protector." We create God in our own image.
The Hebrew Scriptures are full of an anthropomorphic `God" who often operates as a divine judge and dispenser of revenge, killing some, saving some. This part of our religious tradition has led us to reinforce our imaging of God as a puppet master who controls the strings of our lives. When something good happens, we say, "Thank God." When something bad happens to people, we say, "God won't give them anything they can't handle" or we puzzle "How can there be a God?"
A tornado roars through a midwestern town. One woman says, "I prayed when I saw it coming and God heard me and saved me." One wonders, of course, does that mean God saved her while killing Roger and his son across the street?
We are laden with an archaic traditional theology that has made idols of our attempts to understand God. We have put narrow definitions around a Mystery that cannot be contained.
There is a place in the Hebrew Scriptures where God is asked, "Who are you?" We listened to it this morning in our reading about Moses.
"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." God is the God of all generations, of all people. God of women who jump, people who harass, men who murder, people who protest.
The scripture passage continues, revealing that God wants Moses to be a leader for him. "I will be with you," God reassures Moses.
But Moses knows he's going to get all sorts of questions from others and says to God: "They will ask me, `What is his name?' What shall I say to them?" God answers, "I am who I am." Tell the Israelites "I am has sent me."
The Jews do not have a proper name for God. Yahweh, translates as "to be" or "I am who I am". "God is power to create the future; the one who causes to be the power of newness," says William Cotton, "God is action on the future." The Hebrew Kabbalah says God is not external to anything. Buckminster Fuller put it this way: "God is a verb . . not a noun. As a verb, the word `God" becomes only a symbol for the sacred Mystery flowing through the universe, through you and through me. "I am," says God. We are invited to participate in the miracle of being and to move and be moved by a God that is an activating presence in our lives.
Martha is a 75-year old woman living in a small Washington town. She joined a new church recently with a young couple as the pastors. One morning Martha awoke and found she was thinking constantly about the wife. Although Martha had planned to leave that morning to do her shopping and visit a friend she found herself pestered by a need to go visit the woman pastor, Sherry. She knew Sherry's husband was out of town and it was only 8:30am in the morning; a bit early to just pop in on the woman. But, Martha found herself compelled to go by the woman's house. She knocked on the door and heard a voice call faintly. She went in and there was the woman on the floor. "Thank goodness you are here," Sherry said. She was in the midst of a miscarriage and couldn't move. Martha helped Sherry up and got her to a hospital. "I don't know what would have happened to me if you hadn't come by," Sherry said. Martha said later she can only assume it was a movement of the Holy Spirit that led her to Sherry at that very important moment.
God as a verb is like a wind blowing through a town. The wind doesn't discriminately blow a hat off someone or purposefully dry the clothes hanging on a clothesline. The wind simply is the miracle of its existence; a power that is met and responded to in different ways. It can be harnessed by a windmill or simply admired as it causes daisies to dance in a field. The person who loves its feel across his face will celebrate; the person who has dust blown into his eyes will lament.
Rev. Alla Renee Bozarth, an Episcopalian priest says, "We come to birth and being from God, but mystery and meaning must unfold, and what we become depends on our response to the whole of life. We create our lives as we surrender to the larger mystery that contains us. No part of our lives can be separated from any other. All is one. All is alive. We shape our souls by the choices we make and most of all by what we love."
We experience horrendous things and ask why. We see despicable behavior and ask how. We see beauty and kindness and experience awe. God is in the midst of it all, our questions and our yearning, flowing in and around us, an activating presence that does not pick and choose but is available in every moment to all. Even in the midst of horror, even in the midst of tragedy there is the possibility for the redeeming power of the mystery of what we call God to work miracles. This possibility exists when God is welcomed and invited into our lives. This possibility exists even when God is ignored and Grace creates an opening for God's love to heal.
Whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you have done, God says to you, "I am," as a promise that God's love is not a noun sitting on a shelf far away but an active and constant force ever creating our world and us anew. May we open ourselves to God flowing through our lives in amazing ways. Amen.
*Parts of the stories of the woman who jumped and the death of Elledge were taken from articles in the Seattle Times newspaper.