"In All Things God Works for the Good"

May 19, 1996 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
Romans 8:18-28


This morning's sermon is like a patchwork quilt. Sewn together are patches taken from three well-worn garments, recycled and pieced together to create a pattern. Up close, we recognize some familiar clothes: a shirt called "aging," a dress called "grief," a coat called "remembrance." At one time these items may have been hung in different closets, worn by various persons. Now they are combined into a quilt intended to please the eye and warm the body. Woven through all the patches, creating a less-obvious pattern, is the thread of this scripture:

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."    (Rom. 8:28)

"Do things really work for good?," she asked. Alone now, having nursed her husband through his death, she had every reason to doubt God's providence. "Who will take care of me?," she wondered.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

"Oh, I'm always alright," he responded. Underneath, though, his back hurt and he mourned the days he used to spend tinkering on his engines. Still, his sense of humor gets him by.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

"Did you know they took my driver's license away?," he often said with astonishment, even years after the fact ... even when he lay on his deathbed.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

"The bones just don't heal like they used to," she declared. "Still, I have my neighbors who look after me." Of course, she looks after them, also, like a mother hen.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

"I love the Lord with all my heart," he confided, "but, you know, only about half of mine still works..."

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

His eyes are expressive, though the rest of his body cannot be. Something keeps him from going nuts lying there day after day. Something wrinkles a corner of his mouth when it's suggested he's a stubborn character. But still he lies there.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

"I don't go out very much," she remarks. "I pretty much stay inside... I do pray to God and the dear Lord Jesus every day."

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Patches on the quilt, different voices speaking about growing old, all from this fellowship. Some find it easier than others to see God working for good in all things. Do we love the Lord because of the good things we see him doing? Or is our "knowing" that God works for good deeper than our present experience?

Another patch. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," Jesus promised. However, grief takes time. And it never fully goes away, no matter whether loss is sudden or gradual. We can try to avoid grief, just like we might try to avoid growing old, but it doesn't work - does it? Grief, like aging, is a part of life.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Grief has predictable stages, though each person goes through them in their own way and time. At first we experience shock, the mind's way of protecting itself. Then, when we are able to face it, out pours strong emotion. Periods of depression, physical distress, panic, guilt, hostility and resentment, all are natural parts of the grieving process. We may find ourselves unable to return to usual activities, after all things don't return to the way they once were. Ever so gradually, though, a ray of hope filters in, and eventually we re-adjust. Life goes on... As I said, it takes time, and each person grieves in their own way.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Some beatitudes for those who would comfort:

Blessed are those who do not use tears to measure the true feelings of the bereaved.

Blessed are those who do not always have a quick "comforting" answer.

Blessed are those who do not make judgements on the bereaved's closeness to God by their reaction to the loss of their loved one.

Blessed are those who hear with their hearts and not with their minds.

Blessed are those who allow the bereaved enough time to heal.

Blessed are those who admit their uncomfortableness and put it aside to help the bereaved.

Blessed are those who continue to call, visit, and reach out when the crowd has dwindled and the wounded are left standing alone.

Blessed are those who know the worth of each person as a unique individual and do not pretend that they can be replaced or forgotten.

Blessed are those who realize the fragility of bereavement and handle it with an understanding shoulder and a loving heart.
                                    (Jackie Deems, Bereavement Magazine)

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Another patch... The last time we were in Bridgewater, (Virginia) I stopped by the cemetary where my father's body is buried. I don't do this every time, but on this occasion I had the boys with me. It was good to talk with them there about the grandfather they never knew. I tried to answer some of their questions about death. Kids are fascinated by cemetaries, you know. Not morbidly, though. As we were heading out I saw the grave of a friend who was killed in a work accident. I sat and remembered.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Remembrance is good. Yes, it can hurt. But the pain reveals how special this person was, an ache that should never totally be taken away. Such hurt can be redemptive, you know - a sign that your spiritual defense mechanisms are doing their job. Like those little pains we feel during illness which indicate that our white blood cells are attacking invading viruses, so too our present heartaches reveal that our inner spirit, aided by God's Spirit, is at work. Have you ever thought of grief in this way before? Remembrance is an important part of the healing process.

The apostle Paul wrote that "the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait..." (Rom. 8:22-23) Is it possible to see grief as labor pains? I believe so.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Remembrance... Do recall that remembrance is at the heart of our faith. When we break bread, we are called to remember. What does our Lord ask us to remember? His death. That's not a morbid thought, my friends. It sets us free. Yes, it's painful to remember death. It hurts. But that suffering is redemptive. By facing into death, through the power of the one who overcame it, we overcome it as well. By his stripes, we are made whole.

Memorial Day began as a time to commemorate those who lost their lives in the Civil War. According to one tradition, the day began when some southern women chose May 30 to decorate the graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers killed in the battle of Shiloh. Through remembrance, the day worked toward reconciliation for a bitter, scarred and deeply divided nation.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

As with so many verses in the Bible, these words are for tough times. When spoken on bright, sun-shinny days, they lose a bit of their power, sounding like words a naive Pollyanna might say - someone who hasn't yet experienced the darker days of life, when survival is a primary concern.

When times get rough, though, these words take on new meaning. However, the power of this text comes through its discovery by those who need it. The strength found herein cannot be "dumped" upon those who need an encouraging word amid troubling times. Each of us must see for ourself at least a portion of the wider design this verse reveals - as the thread weaves it way through the quilt of our lives.

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

A quilt is spread before you this morning. Patches from various garments have been sewn together into a design. Did you recognize the shirt called "aging," the dress called "grief," the coat called "remembrance?" Do they fit together in a pattern in your life? Can you make out the quilting, the thread of purpose that runs through every patch? If you have glimpsed even a smaller portion of it, be free to affirm, one last time, what you believe to be true:

"We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Amen, let it be so.

1996Peter L. Haynes

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