Sermons

Sun, May 14, 2017

When change isn't possible

Series:Sermons

Forty years ago, my parents separated.

Actually, to be more precise, my mother left.

While I was away on a Scout hike...

and my brother and father were off camping by themselves...

mum secretly took everything from the whole house--

apart from the things in my brother's and my rooms.

Of course, prior to that, things had been pretty bad between mum and dad:

the shouting and arguing...

interspersed with periods of silence;

the constant sense of tension and animosity in the air...

never knowing when things were going to blow up, yet again;

and, although it didn't happen often...

and we only heard it and didn't see it...

there were moments of actual physical violence--

from both sides.

But life didn't really improve after she left.

The acrimonious divorce...

and, especially, the looming property settlement...

pervaded our lives...

and threatened what semblances of it remained--

if mum got too much, we would have to sell the house and move...

we would have to change schools.

At the same time, former family friends shunned us--

especially because Dad would drag us around to see them...

go on and on about what mum had done...

leaving my brother and me to retreat into an embarrassed silence...

only to be berated by dad, later, for not "supporting him".

As a result, we effectively lost any form of social life.

And, as a thirteen or fourteen year old...

it's not supposed to be your job to be your father's sole emotional support...

especially when you're trying to deal with your own pain...

not to mention everything that goes with being a teenager.

Those were very painful years, which left a mark on me.

It reinforced my inherent shyness and social awkwardness.

I used to imagine what it was like for the other kids at school...

what it was like to have a 'normal' family life.

And, although I couldn't articulate it, I was angry with both my parents...

for what they had put me through.

I didn't deserve it.

And I was powerless to do anything about it.

 

Now, in telling you all this, I realise that there are dangers.

Some of you may be thinking that's a strange way to start a sermon on Mothers' Day.

Some of you may be sitting there feeling sorry for me.

But that was the best illustration I could think of...

personally...

of how, in life...

we often face situations that are beyond our control...

situations that we cannot change...

situations in which we feel powerless.

For many of us, that may be things that are happening in our world...

or our country--

big things...

like the senseless death and destruction in Syria...

or the increasing racism and demonisation of minorities...

or the appalling treatment of asylum seekers...

or the decline of the church.

But it may be something closer to home...

something more personal.

It might be that something is going on in the lives of your family that you cannot fix;

or you have been the butt of rumours, gossip, and slander...

which you are powerless to stop;

or you may have experienced some suffering that is senseless or undeserved...

for which someone--

or some organisation--

is responsible.

In life, we all experience situations that are beyond our control...

situations that we cannot change...

and in which we feel helpless, powerless, and frustrated.

And, in dealing with them, it's tempting to wallow in self-pity...

to try to run away or escape...

or to retaliate.

 

The author of the first letter of Peter knew that...

and sought to address it in our reading this morning.

He called upon the slaves within the church to...

"accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but 

also those who are harsh".

Now, in the first-century world, slavery was rife.

It was a fundamental institution--

such that people could not conceive of a world without it.

In other words, it was simply a given...

a constant...

something that was never, ever going to change.

That didn't help if you were a slave.

Because there was a standard stereotype:

slaves were seen as cheats and thieves...

liars...

and lazy good-for-nothings.

They had no legal rights.

They were treated as commodities--

as livestock--

not as people.

Being a slave was a completely powerless experience.

They couldn't change their situation.

They couldn't do anything about it.

And, as slaves, they could be subjected to beatings and punishment...

even torture...

often for the slightest thing.

Being treated like that...

living under such conditions...

day after day...

year after year...

would have been demoralising.

It wouldn't be at all surprising if it led to slaves getting frustrated and angry...

trying to run away...

engaging in self-harm...

being disruptive and uncooperative...

or, worse, lashing out violently.

So the author was trying to encourage slaves...

about how to live in a situation and a context that they couldn't change...

and over which they had no control.

And note...

he doesn't call upon them to rebel or to fight...

or to try to change the system.

That just wasn't possible.

Nor does he hold out the prospect of vengeance or even recompense.

Rather, he calls upon them to endure.

Even more than that...

he calls upon them to do what is good and right...

what is proper and fitting...

even though that doesn't change anything...

even though that doesn't seem to make any difference.

What he's really saying is:

when faced with a hopeless, helpless situation...

what matters is our self-respect and our integrity.

But, more than that...

if we feel powerless...

if we cannot change the situation...

there's still one thing over which we do have power...

there's still one thing that we can change--

namely, us...

and how we respond.

As Maya Angelou once said:

"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude".

 

And, in that regard, the author points his readers to Jesus' experience...

who, in his response to suffering, set us a powerful example to emulate:

"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was abused, he did not 

return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who 

judges justly".

Faced with undeserved suffering...

faced with powers and forces beyond his control...

faced with a situation that he couldn't change...

Jesus' response wasn't to run, or whinge, or retaliate.

Rather, he endured.

He acted with integrity.

He trusted in the God whom he believed would declare him innocent and honourable.

He trusted in the God of the resurrection--

a God who is able to transform darkness into light...

and who promises to bring joy out of pain...

justice out of injustice...

and new life out of death.

And yet, at the same time, the sense that we have here...

is that it's only when we do what is right, and proper, and fitting--

when we act with self-respect and integrity...

when we don't choose the path of self-pity or retaliation...

in situations of suffering and hopeless powerlessness--

that it's only when we follow Jesus' example...

when we symbolically embrace 'death'...

that God is able to bring new life.

Powered by: truthengaged