Rev Irene O’Brien
SO MUCH WE DON’T UNDERSTAND
Someone has compiled a list of Kids instructions on Life. Some of these instructions are quite well thought out for kids.
For example, 9 yr old Michael was going to the beach and when asked by his dad what he should do to keep himself safe he replied, always wear a hat when feeding seagulls.
Other instructions about life include, don’t flush the toilet when Dad is in the shower…… 10yr old Leon.
Never ask for anything that costs more than £5 when your parents are waiting for pay day ….9 yr old Carol.
Never tell your mother her diet’s not working. — Joshua, age 14
Don’t pick on your sister when she’s holding a tennis racquet. — Joel, age 12
When you get a bad grade in school, show it to your mother when she’s on her mobile phone–Alyesha, age 13
Never try to baptize a cat.– Laura, age 13.
Those are some pretty good pieces of advice. We all need advice at times, don’t we? We are in the same boat as Jesus’ disciples. Jesus is preparing to leave his disciples. He says to them in John 16:12, “Oh, there is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t understand it now.”
There are some things we will never understand. Try as hard as we might, there are mysteries in life we will never be able to grasp.
Some of us don’t understand our spouses, or our children, or our parents. Some of us don’t even understand ourselves. Sometimes we ask, ‘Why in the world did I do that? And we really don’t know why. There is much in this world that we do not comprehend.
Robert Lloyd was a student at Winchester University. A brilliant student, Robert was struggling with a class in which he was studying the time-space relationship later formulated by Einstein as his Theory of Relativity. The text was complex and, being unable to comprehend it, Robert committed the pages to memory. When he was called upon to answer a question about this time-space relationship, he solemnly reeled off almost word for word what the book said. When he was finished, the Professor looked at him somewhat puzzled and asked do you understand this theory?
It was a bad moment for Robert Lloyd but he did not hesitate in replying: No, sir. You could have heard a pin drop, as Robert braced himself and waited, and then came the slow, measured words of the professor: Neither do I, Mr Lloyd. Section dismissed. Robert was relieved that he wasn’t expected to know the answer to that complex question.
There are questions in life that you and I can’t answer either. We offer up platitudes. We make guesses, sometimes even educated guesses, but we really don’t know. For example, we don’t understand why good people suffer. We don’t understand why bad people prosper. We can’t understand why some people from a certain kind of background become criminals, while other people growing up under the same kind of circumstances become respectable members of the community. One of the things we don’t understand is the concept of the Trinity. How can God be three and yet one? How could the babe in Bethlehem at the same time be God the Father? Someone has said that if you fully try to understand the Trinity, you’ll lose your mind. But if you deny the Trinity, you’ll lose your soul. That may be a little strong. We are not saved by our theology. We are saved by our relationship with the risen Christ. Still, it is a little embarrassing to admit that at the heart of our faith is a concept none of us can adequately explain. And that brings us to a second thing we need to know: While there is much we cannot understand–particularly about the things of faith, we can know everything we need to know. Relax. We live by grace, not knowledge. Like Robert Lloyd’s Professor, God does not expect us to understand everything. But God will show us everything that is necessary.
The Internet auction site eBay, established in 1995, is one of the genuine success stories of the Internet. eBay offers everything from movie memorabilia to antique lamps to luxury cars. But there are a number of less-than-legitimate items offered for sale, too.
One person offered to sell her annoying little brother. The highest bid received was £1.50. Many users have even offered to sell their soul to the highest bidder. There is one user who has offered to sell the knowledge of the ‘Meaning of Life’. This person writes, I have discovered the reason for our existence and will be happy to share this information with the highest bidder. At the last count, customers had bid that price up to a whopping £3.26.
My guess is that, if we thought that this person really had discovered the meaning of life, we might spend a little more to find out what he or she had discovered.
Actually one person did know the secret of the meaning of life. He wanted to tell this secret to his disciples, but he knew that they would not understand. So he said to them: When the Holy Spirit, who is truth, comes, he shall guide you into all truth, for he will not be presenting his own ideas, but will be passing on to you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. I don’t think that Jesus could not have meant that the Holy Spirit would tell us everything there is to know. It is obvious that no one, regardless of how full they may be of the Holy Spirit, can answer every question. But every believer, regardless of how brilliant or how humble knows what he or she needs to know, that Jesus Christ came into the world, that he died at the hands of sinful humanity. On the third day God raised him from the dead, and that he lives forever at the right hand of the Father. And we know that when Christ left this world, the Father bestowed upon those who believed in him the gift of his Holy Spirit, so that wherever we might be, whatever we might endure, we would know in our heart of hearts that God is with us.
This is the very heart of the Gospel. We are not saved by how much we know. We are saved by what God has done in Christ in our behalf. We don’t know everything, but we know everything that is essential.
So, what is our response to all of this? It is to acknowledge that we live by faith. Living by faith is not living without questions. Living by faith means living without reservation. Living by faith is staking our lives on the belief that what we know about God through Christ and the Holy Spirit is enough to sustain us in this world and the world to come.
Martha G. Hendricks, writing in The Clergy Journal, pointed to something very wise that a minister said a few years ago: He said that fifty years ago the ultimate question for people was, What is truth? That is no longer true. The ultimate question for people now is, what’s the point?
What’s the point of staying married if you think you don’t love each other anymore?
What’s the point of working until you drop if the company is just going to downsize you out of a job?
What’s the point of getting a university degree if there aren’t any jobs for you when you graduate?
What’s the point of eating healthy when science keeps changing its mind about what healthy is?’
And that really is what people are asking now-a-days, isn’t it? Few people are asking, what is truth. Each year on the church’s calendar, right after Pentecost, comes Trinity Sunday. I don’t find very many people who are even interested in trying to find out what is meant by God, the three-in-one. What people want to know is, how can I make it through the day and keep my dignity intact? How can I cope with the stresses in my life? How can I get it all together in a world that seems to be coming apart at the seams? And there is an answer to all these questions at the foot of the cross. Everything we need to know about life we can discover there. For at the cross we discover how much we are loved.
Let me tell you about a little girl who discovered a great secret from her grandparents. Ever since she could remember, her grandparents had played this secret little game. They would leave the word Shmily, S-H-M-I-L-Y, around the house for one another. Grandfather would stuff little notes with the word Shmily in Grandmothers knitting bag. Grandmother would write the word Shmily in the steam on the bathroom mirror so Grandfather would see it when he took his morning shower. Over the years, they competed to see who could find the most creative way to leave a Shmily note for the other.
And when Grandmother lost her ten-year fight against cancer, her coffin was wreathed with a huge bouquet of flowers. And on the yellow ribbon around the bouquet was that one word, Shmily. The thing that held her grandparents marriage together, the thing that nourished them in life and sustained them in death: Shmily.
What does Shmily mean?
S-h-m-i-l-y: See how much I love you.
And that is the message that sustains us. It is a message that all believers see attached to every cross: See how much I love you.
As a Minister I long to answer peoples questions about life and about God. As I stand beside a grave side with a grieving family. As I lead a group of children in messy church into a better understanding of our faith. As I lie awake in the night struggling with my own call to serve God.
But there are questions that I cannot answer. All I can do is take you to the foot of the cross and say to you, everything you need to know is here.
See how much God loves you.