God’s goodness, by Pastor Noel

March 17, 2019    2nd Sunday of Lent, C


      “What if I had not believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!”

      What indeed!

      It’s hard to see God’s goodness, or any goodness, when lives get snuffed out in an instant.

      It’s hard to see God’s goodness when we read that our government is allowing toxins to be dumped into our waterways and our air.

      It’s hard to see God’s goodness when we read of the horrible inequalities faced by the “others” in our country, our world. (there are no others)

      It’s hard to see God’s goodness when there are people at every corner with signs begging for help.

      It’s hard, but not impossible.

      Even the news media can be a source goodness. While it seems focused on showing us the worst of the day, the news can show us signs of goodness, of hope.

      In Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who’s 16, started a movement to combat the effects of climate change. She sat outside Parliament, on strike from school. Her actions have spawned similar “Fridays for the Future” around the world.

      Yesterday Rob, Annalise and Eva Jane, Annie Etchells, Katharine McDuffy, and many others, stood in the rain at the State House yesterday to protest inaction on climate issues.

      Malala Yousafzai wrote the BBC about the appalling lack of education for girls in her home town in Pakistan.

      Her honesty nearly cost her life, but she recovered, received the Nobel Peace Prize, and has an international fund to help fund education for girls around the world.

      Lots of goodness there.

      Sometimes goodness comes after a long wait.

      Forty years ago Idi Amin ordered the killing of Archbishop Janani Luwum. Now, decades later, a member of Amin’s tribe, who is a priest, has apologized to Luwum’s family, and been forgiven.

      This has been called “a great miracle.”

      God’s goodness, indeed.

      There are many more such goodness stories, of course. Many closer to home than these examples.

      We may have to dig for them in the news.

      We can see them acted out in front of us all day long if we look. People caring for other people, and all of God’s creation.

      We can participate in God’s goodness in big and small ways without going far from home.

      A man I’ve come to admire is John Pavlovitz.

He is a pastor, writer, speaker, activist. He has a blog called “Stuff that needs to be said.”

      He has written beautifully about his experiences with grief, especially the death of his father.

      One thing he is grieving is religion. He says he wants to get rid of all the trappings of church. He just wants everyone to be God’s goodness.

      He calls us to be “The church of not being horrible.” I agree that some of what he decries are “trappings.” They trap us with false ideas and keep us from seeing and living God’s goodness.

      I am drawn to “The church of not being horrible.” It’s where I can see the goodness of God.

      I would like more form to the church than Pavlovitz does, but “not being horrible” is pretty much what we call the “golden rule.”

      “Do unto others…” God’s goodness in action.

      We see this lived out in Jesus.

      And we can see it not lived out in Herod. Herod had no qualms about killing someone who got in his way.  There was his son, maybe his brother, (so he could marry the brother’s wife), and John the Baptizer, to name a few.

      Jesus calls Herod a fox. Foxes are known for being sly and crafty. They can be the scourge of chicken coops. They are just being the way they were created, but I don’t think they’d be welcome at the church of not being horrible.

      Jesus calls himself a hen, gathering her chicks under her wings. And foxes eat hens.

      He is God’s goodness and the church of not being horrible all in one.

      He is bemoaning the city of Jerusalem, but he is talking about all of God’s people.

      He wants them, us, to be free of the deadly trappings of religion. He wants us to be free of the foxes that would make our lives deadly.

      He knows the power of the foxes, the Herods. He knows that his opposition to Herod is putting him at risk.

      When our lives are in jeopardy it’s easy to pull back from what’s causing that. Easy to give up the dream and just fade away.

      Think of all those who didn’t give up the dream. Those who kept on seeing God’s goodness lead them on—even into the opposition.

      Jesus, of course. Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Martin Luther and MLK, jr. And more than I can name here. (Check Lent Madness for others!)

      Jesus didn’t give up. He told Herod that he was going to keep on healing and casting out demons. He will continue living God’s goodness and sharing it however he can. Herod and his followers can’t see this, because they are blind to God’s goodness.

      The trappings of the church and of the culture have closed their eyes to the goodness God has for each of us.

      One of those trappings, traps if you will, takes us back to the start of my sermon.

      It’s hard to see the goodness of the Lord in others when religion says that you are the only one who is right. When we think we are the only one who is right, we live like foxes, and take whatever we can.

      When we get to know those who we think differ from us, we find how alike we are. All God’s children. All able to see and live the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

      Another idea from John Pavlovitz: “Today, look around you. See the builders in your community, take note of the beautiful acts of collaboration and inclusion, and let that news be the thing that trends in your head.”

      Then we can see and live the goodness of the Lord, and can be the church of not being horrible.





The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details