So, the theme of this retreat is “swept away.” I did not make up that theme and was told that “swept away” was the theme while I was being asked to speak. It is amazing how much that phrase has been a part of my life over the past few months. You see, I just returned from Japan a few months ago after making a trip up to the area of Japan that was devastated by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. I went way up north to a location where the wave came up over the sea wall and washed away people and houses and schools and changed many lives within a matter of minutes. I went to where people were living after losing their homes, jobs, and cars, and listened to them say the word “nagasareta” over and over again. It means “washed away” or “swept away.” One man showed me pictures of the remains of his house. One couple talked about their daughter who got out in the nick of time, but her house was washed away. One man was walking with his eighty-year old mother, holding her hand, and they were suddenly in water up to their chests. He tried to hold on to her hand, but she let go and was swept away. Thousands and thousands of people are living in temporary housing because their homes were swept away by this sudden wall of water. About 18,000 people are dead or still missing.
There were lots of sudden disasters over the past year. We had all kinds of tornadoes and hurricanes, flooding and droughts in the United States. What kind of world do we live in? How can something like this happen? How do 18,000 people get swept away in a matter of minutes? What does it mean? I have heard people talk about it like it means the end of the world is here. Is the end of the world here? I have heard people talk about it like those people died because God was angry at them. Did those 18,000 people die because God was angry?
Do you ever ask questions like that or does stuff like that just happen to other people and have nothing to do with you? I don’t know about you, but 18,000 people dying bothers me. It more than bothers me, it hurts. It hurts a lot. And, you know what? It does not take 18,000 people dying to make me pause. When I was in college, there was one young man in my dorm who died in a motorcycle accident and I struggled with why this happened to him. I asked what kind of world this was where he would disappear like that. How could God let something like that happen? I did not know how to talk with God for a while then and none of the answers people gave me seemed good enough.
So, let’s stop for a moment and be real with each other. The world is MESSED UP. It is not all lollipops and high-fives. Even if you are a Christian you do not get to ride through life on a rainbow unicorn and laugh at all the people who don’t have rainbow unicorns. Straight up. I am just being real with you. We got problems. Some of the happy-happy songs that we sing in church make it seem like having problems means you are not a Christian. False.
Well, what does the Bible say? It says that God made the world good, really good, because God is a good God, a really good God, but then things got MESSED UP. People decided not to follow God over and over and over and over again (in fact every person but one decided not to follow God) and so rejected goodness and life. Then you have a whole bunch of totally messed up people doing awful things in the Bible. Story after story of people killing each other, selling each other as slaves, cursing each other, stealing peoples wives, lying and killing people to cover up stealing other people’s wives, making bad decisions while drunk, having sex with family members while drunk, raping people, vengefully murdering all the people in the town where the rape happened, cutting up a woman and mailing her body-parts across the country, and talk of cutting up babies, smacking babies’ heads against rocks, and eating babies. If you think the Bible is all happy thoughts and angels on clouds, you are going to be very disappointed. The Bible tells it like it is. The world is messed up.
I doubt anyone here would disagree with that statement. We look around and agree that the world is messed up. Something is dreadfully wrong. There are wars, children who die of starvation every day, a guy setting tigers loose in Zanesville, Ohio and then killing himself, human trafficking on Craig’s list, a government launching rockets at its own people in Syria, and we could just keep going on and on. We probably do not have to go that far. In a group this big, I am sure that there are plenty of people here who would say, “Yeah, I am in the middle of a situation that is messed up. I can see that there is something wrong with the world from the way people in my family treat each other or the way people at school are just mean and hurtful.” We probably do not even have to go that far and point fingers at other people. If we were honest, we might be able look inside and say, “The way I treat other people is not right. The things I do are messed up. I have secrets that are dark and I do not want anyone else to see them.”
So, great, right? The world is MESSED UP. What are you supposed to do about it? I mean, great, so there is this problem in the world and it is ripping things apart, it’s ripping us apart, but what are we supposed to do? Well, there are plenty of voices out there telling us what we should do. Some of them say you just have to ignore it. They say, “The world isn’t really messed up, it just seems that way to you. Things are really fine. It’s just the way things are.” However, that voice does not seem very satisfying, because it sure looks like there is a problem when people are killing other people. Some of the voices say that there is nothing you can do about the mess, so you might as well just laugh at it. So, TV shows like Family Guy and South Park laugh at Osama bin Laden or people who molest children or anything else they can make fun of. The world is a mess, they say, so all you can do is laugh at this big, stupid joke we call life. Some voices say that you just have to kill all the bad people. A few more wars and then we will find peace. Some of the voices, not the least in our music, say that, since you cannot defeat the evil, you might as well join it. Be the person who shoots first, the person who sells the drugs; be the person who smashes people’s cars up with a baseball bat, take that Louisville slugger and smash his headlights, get revenge; be the party animal, be the rock star, live in excess and waste; cause chaos. If you cannot beat evil, you might as well be evil.
Do you know what I think of those solutions? I think they are MESSED UP. MESSED UP. The Bible says that is all MESSED UP. Why? Why is that messed up? Because it doesn’t do anything about evil, sin, the problems, or any of the mess. With all of those answers you just end up spreading the pain and hurt and sin and evil around in different ways and causing more pain and hurt for yourself and others in the process.
Is there another way? What does the Bible say? Does the Bible say that this is all a joke or it is all hopeless or we are supposed to just kill off all the bad people? Where is God in all of this? Did He just walk away and leave the world to figure itself out? No. The Bible says that, in the middle of this mess, God started a plan to set the world right. In the beginning, He created people to bear His image, to care for and rule over creation as His representative. People were not supposed to be weak and get sick and die. However, they rebelled against God and they broke themselves and their relationship with God and the creation. It is kinda like this (Creation-Abraham-Jesus skit).
So, in Jesus, God is setting everything that was touched by sin right. Paul says that we are being made into a new creation. However, everything is not yet right, is it? (Rearrange) There are people who are still killing each other and ruining the world and worshiping mountains instead of God. Jesus opened up the way for us to be set right again, but not everyone has accepted that. Things are still messed up, so what is our role? What are we supposed to do? If you have your Bibles, I want you to read with me II Corinthians 5:17-21. (Read).
Paul says that Jesus started something new, a new life. We have a chance to be a part of the new life, to be cured from the sin and mess that is ruining us from the inside out. Somehow, the blessings of God, the healing of God, God’s creative power to start a renewal in us is bursting forth through Jesus. That is not where it ends, though. It is not just about me. God loves the world. Paul says we have work to do. It is bigger than just me getting saved and escaping my problems. We are to be a part of reconciling people to God. When we are made new, we are made new to be a part of the healing of all things. We are agents of the new creation. That does not mean that everything will be easy or there will be simple answers to all of our questions. I do not have all the answers when 18,000 people are swept away by a tsunami. However, I know that God is working to set things right and we can be on His side. We can be friends of God. I know that it does mean that we have a purpose, work to do, and a way to stand up to the evil in the world and be a channel of renewal. Yeah, things are messed up, what are you going to do about it?
So, where are you in all of this? You cannot be a part of the healing of all things or be an ambassador for Jesus if the healing has not started inside of you. Where are you tonight? Is there something broken and wrong inside of you that is ripping you apart? Is there sin in your life that you are keeping secret and do not want to let go of? You do not have to carry that. You can be free tonight if you want to. Maybe you have never heard any of this, but the idea that you could be new and real and be a part of the healing of the creation sounds good and you want to be a part of that. You can do that. We want you to be a part of this renewal of all creation. Maybe you have lived all your life and been a Christian, but that Christianity has been self-centered, all about me, and you never thought that God could do something through you to set the world right. Maybe you want to let God know that you are in this thing with Him, whatever He wants from you. You have a chance to do that tonight. Where are you? Are you part of the mess or part of the hope that is changing the world?