Sunday, March 19, 2023
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Fourth Sunday in Lent
watch this service online (readings start around 17:16; sermon starts around 27:45)
In our Wednesday evening gatherings for Training Disciples, we have been engaging in bible study and reflection and prayer, all centered around the theme of “blessing the Lent we actually have.” It’s a Lenten curriculum inspired by this book: The Lives We Actually Have: 100 Blessings for Imperfect Days – and boy, there is a lot of goodness in here. Both the book and the curriculum were written by a bestselling author named Kate Bowler, who is a professor of religious history at Duke Divinity School.
The book Bowler is probably best known for, though, is this one, called: Everything Happens for a Reason, And Other Lies I’ve Loved. It’s a memoir of sorts. When Bowler was 35 years old, she was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and told that she likely only had another two years to live. Thankfully, it’s been eight years since then, and she is in remission now, thanks be to God! But Bowler wrote this book about the kind of toxic positivity and terrible theology that we tend to reach for in times of trouble – especially this idea that everything happens for a reason – this idea that suffering and pain and loss are somehow part of what God plans and intends for us.
It’s a terrifying thing to believe, when you stop and think about it. But I suppose it’s comforting to believe that there is something divine or redemptive about our suffering – that it’s all according to plan, even if the plan is terrible. It also tends to give us permission to distance ourselves from the suffering of others – because that, too, is “all part of the plan.”
But, contrary to this idea of God, what Bowler shows through her writings is a God who walks beside us, a tender, caring God who comes down right into the middle of the mess and chaos and disarray of our daily lives to give us the strength and comfort to keep on going. She gives us an image of God that is actually much more in line with what we know of God from scripture – especially from scripture like Psalm 23, which we read today. There we see that God is one who gives us rest and brings us beauty, one who anoints us and comforts us, one who goes with us all the way, even into the darkest valley.