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Why Doesn't God Do Something?

Sermon
Questions Of Faith
Gospel Sermons For Sundays After Pentecost
Introduction

Jesse Ventura, Governor of Minnesota, gained national media attention for his provocative comments in a Playboy magazine interview in 1999. In a question/answer interview, he made excuses for the Navy's Tailhook sexual harassment scandal in 1991 when 83 women were assaulted and molested at a Navy-Marine Corps gathering in Las Vegas. In addition, he thought penalties for prostitution should be lightened or else legalized. He also said that he liked to be governor most of all because it made him feel like a king and that nobody could tell him what to do.

Of all his comments in that interview, the ones he said about religion touched off the most controversy. He said, according to the October 1, 1999 Star Tribune: "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers. It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business."

Many politicians and religious leaders responded negatively to Ventura's comments on religion. One politician suggested that maybe he should consider stepping down as governor because his comments showed he had a lack of understanding for the world in which he lived. A seminary president was disappointed that the governor had no knowledge of the thoughtfulness of the many religious traditions and thought his comments showed ignorance. A United Church of Christ minister advised Ventura to stay away from churches and not to try to offer comforting words in the wake of some future tragedy.
Whether or not Ventura's comments were taken out of context, as some supporters contend, he is a self-made man who sometimes comes across as a "know it all" and someone who can take care of himself, even in a crisis.

Most of us are not as confident about ourselves as that Minnesota governor, and perhaps we are weak-minded and use our faith as a crutch. I know I wonder what people do who do not believe in God when there is a crisis. And I know others who have lost faith in God when a tragedy happens in their life or in the world. It brings to mind the age-old questions: Why does God allow suffering? Why doesn't God do something? These are certainly questions raised by today's Gospel.

Violence

Today's Gospel is another parable set in the vineyard. This one is a tragedy. It ends in violence, death, and lack of resolution. The landowner sends his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce from the vineyard. They are beaten, stoned, and killed. He sends more slaves and the same thing happens. Finally, the landowner sends his own son, and he is killed as well. We wonder what the landowner will do next. He is patient and long-suffering, both qualities we admire, yet we want him to do something to stop the killing. In fact we blame the landowner's patience and long-suffering for the death of the slaves and the son.

I don't know about you, but it makes me impatient with God. How can God allow a group of tenants to run wild in their violence? Why didn't God do something? For that matter why doesn't God do something about the violence and suffering of the innocent in our day?

You pick up any newspaper and there are examples of people suffering. I think of the eight-year-old girl who was raped by other children, one being her nine-year-old brother. I think of the innocent people killed in ethnic cleansing, including nuns and priests. I think of the random shootings on our city streets. The list can go on and on.

According to Isaiah, the vineyard is a symbol for the people of Israel, God's chosen people. Today, we believe the vineyard represents the world and we are God's chosen people who are the tenants. We have been given the responsibility to care for this world and be a blessing to all people. However, too often we not only forget to whom it belongs, we also have not done a good job of caring for the world. We have often tried to keep the vineyard for ourselves and destroyed anyone who gets in our way.

If all people of God took seriously their responsibility as tenants to care for this world, the world would be a much better place. We would not be poised on the brink of ecological disaster. Starvation would not still be a global problem. The sidewalks of major cities would not be filled with the homeless. Children would not die for the lack of food or medicine. People would not be killing each other in unthinkable numbers.

It is hard to understand, but many battles have been fought over religious beliefs. In fact, the first murder rises out of a religious act. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. Both sons wanted to please God, so they brought their offerings. Cain, the farmer, offers the first fruits of the soil. Abel, a shepherd, offers the first lamb from the flock. Both are generous gifts, but God plays favorites and likes Abel's gift better. Cain is so jealous he kills his brother. When asked where Abel is, Cain responds, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

Down through the ages we have witnessed sibling rivalry for God's favor. It is in the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. And we see it in the conflict between Jews and Muslims, Christians and Jews, Christians and Muslims. Blood is spilled over religious convictions. In fact nearly every conflict that has occurred and is occurring on earth is driven by religious motives. Thus there was ethnic cleansing in Germany and more recently in Kosovo. Religion is also the cause for the murder of women in Afghanistan by Islamic fundamentalists seeking to keep a woman in her place. We get Muslim suicide bombers killing busloads of Jews, and a fanatical Jew mowing down thirty praying Muslims in a mosque. We get fundamental Christians killing doctors who perform abortions. Then there is Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, in part as revenge against the government for killing David Koresh and his followers.

How can this be? How can those who say they love God be so violent? Or how can we, who profess we love Jesus Christ, be so self-serving? Too often we use religion to our own advantage.

Jesse Ventura, the Governor of Minnesota, said his views on religion were shaped during his military experience during the Vietnam era. He said he witnessed so-called religious leaders zealously marketing their beliefs to people too uneducated to comprehend what they were talking about and too poor to afford the money they were being asked to contribute. It is no wonder that there are those who stay away from the church or any affiliation with a religious group.

Judgment

God's word to us today is a word of judgment like the other vineyard stories. Just as surely as Jesus was judging the religious leaders of his day with the parable of the landowner and tenants, he is judging us. I am afraid the verdict is not good. We may not be violent, but we are self-serving. We don't use the resources God has given us for the good of others. We instinctively provide all that we need and more for ourselves and our loved ones and do not reach out to people who are different from us. In fact we are uncomfortable with people who are different. The worst hour at a church for a visitor is often the coffee hour after service as members gather with their friends

I will never forget the woman who confronted her pastor and her congregation. This woman, whom I'll call Debbie, called her pastor one day and said it was no use and she was calling to say good-bye. Debbie had joined this church because she wanted to have her baby baptized and she wanted him to grow up like the people in that particular church. She wanted the good life for him, not like her life. Debbie had grown up in foster families. She had been sexually abused by one of her foster fathers and his friends, raped by a person she thought she could trust, she had been on every kind of drug possible and had been apprehended for shop-lifting. In order to be unattractive to men, she had become obese. Now she had this beautiful little boy, and she wanted a different kind of life for him. But it was not working and she called to say good-bye.

Her pastor didn't understand at first, but then it dawned on her that Debbie was planning to take her own life. She asked Debbie if she and the baby wanted to come and be with her, knowing that Debbie was not very proud of her place of residency. Debbie didn't want to come. So the pastor tried to keep her talking, asking her what had happened and telling her that her baby needed her. She told her that whatever she had done, God loved her and would forgive her. But that didn't seem to work, so she said, "Debbie, I love you." Debbie's quick response was, "You are paid to love the likes of me." And that was true.

The pastor was the only one in that church who had paid any attention to Debbie and her son. The members would superficially greet her on Sunday mornings, but no one made an effort to get to know her. She and her baby needed the love and support of the members of the church and not just the pastor who Debbie said was paid to love her.

We are the tenants. We are the ones who have rejected the servants God has sent. We are the ones who killed his Son. We are the ones who are contributing to the pending ecological disaster. We are the ones who are responsible for the poor, the homeless, the dying.

It is easy to forget that we are just tenants and it is God who owns this world. It is God in whose church we are sitting this morning. All that we possess, including our homes and all that we earn, belong to God. There will be an accounting of our stewardship -- the use of our time, our talents, and our resources. The gospel tells us that the kingdom will be given to "a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."

Conclusion

There will be a day of reckoning. The picture seems dismal. Fortunately for us the landowner, God, is patient and long-suffering. We are given another chance. We can come to Christ's table and repent of our sins -- sins of commission and sins of omission. The Good News is that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven and given another chance to be faithful tenants who are a blessing to others.

When we see pain and injustice, such as an innocent child hungry and cold, don't blame God. And don't respond in anger at God when you see suffering or ask why God permits this and why God doesn't do something. The truth is that God has done something. God came in Jesus Christ to die for our sins and bring new life. And God is doing something in that God has made you and me. We can make a difference with God's help. Amen.

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