Monday, February 29, 2016

Sunday's Sermon – God Isn’t Fair

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 28, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia and Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can also find a podcast of this sermon on The Cove Podbean page. You can also find a podcast of this sermon on The Cove Podbean page. 

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Isaiah 55:1-9

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God Isn’t Fair 

“That isn’t fair.” Now, let me ask you, how many of y’all have heard those or similar words in the last forty-eight hours? Now the reason I ask is that I think you can call this a genuine parenthood question, something that separates those who have children, I’d say, between the ages of four and eighteen, a little younger if they’re gifted and a little older if they’re still living at home, from those who don’t.

And like I said, I think it can be used to determine active parenthood, because aunts and uncles, and certainly grandmothers and grandfathers are amazingly fair, at least in the eyes of the kids, mainly because either they’ve decided not to engage in the fairness fight or, as a passive-aggressive attempt at revenge, they figure the best way to get back at brother or sister, son or daughter is to indulge nieces and nephews, grandsons and granddaughters. But for moms and dads, “that’s not fair,” is just one of those delightful phrases that seem to run on some kind of never-ending loop.

Of course, the exact words may be slightly different, you know, like using the second person, singular or plural, “You aren’t fair,” identifying a quality within the antagonist. Or they may be employing the verb in either it’s present or past continuous form: “You weren’t being fair” or “You aren’t being fair,” inferring a pattern of behavior rather than an isolated incident. But regardless of the grammatical form the sentence takes, the meaning is the same, the parent has violated that standard of fairness that provides a basis for our society. And if that’s not clear by the words themselves, the stomping and the pouting and sometimes the crying makes the message crystal clear.

But you know, it shouldn’t surprise us that this whole business of fairness is such a big deal for our kids, because let’s face it, it’s a pretty big deal for us too. I mean, don’t most of us want things to be fair? Sure we do. And personally, I think the reason is pretty obvious. My goodness, if things are fair, if the playing field is level, if the game hasn’t been rigged and the cards haven’t been marked and the dice haven’t been loaded and if someone other than your brother is the banker the next time you play Monopoly, well, then things will go well, and we’ll stand a fighting chance. But when your parent takes away your cell phone just because you didn’t practice piano, something I see happen on a weekly basis, or if your boss gives you the project or the job that nobody else wants or if your husband is hounding you about spending too much money and then he goes out and buys a convertible, well, life has suddenly become more difficult than it should be and suddenly you’re facing some additional obstacles that you didn’t choose and certainly don’t deserve and suddenly you’re in a situation when the only thing you can possibly say that makes sense is “that isn’t fair.” And that’s often what we end up doing, saying that kind of thing either to ourselves or sharing it with someone we love.

And why shouldn’t we? I mean, give me a break, like I said before, I think people want the world to be fair,  and for most of us, there are two things about fairness that can’t be monkeyed with, because if you do, it’s just not fair anymore. You see, first, for something to be truly fair, it should be given without any partiality, without any favoritism, without any partisanship. Good night nurse, isn’t that why they say that justice is blind and all those statutes of that woman holding the scales, she’s always blindfolded, even on Judge Judy, until she lifts one side and winks. And isn’t justice sort of like fairness? Sure it is. I’ll tell you, for something to be fair, everybody needs to have the same chance, just like it is in America where everybody, no matter where they were born or how they were raised and educated, everybody is equal; money never matters. If it did, that wouldn’t be fair, right? You see, for it to be fair, it has to be impartial. That’s one.

And second, it needs to be deserved. In other words, the results must be based on what you do. For example, your grade on the science project should be based on your work and not because your dad is an artist or your mom is really good with computers. And you getting the job should be based on your expertise and your experience and your interview and not on who you know, or is that whom you know. No, that would be unfair. We should get what we pay for. We should enjoy the fruits of our labor. We should recognize that there’s no such thing as a free lunch; that would be unfair. And that’s certainly not the way we want to see the world around us. But of course, I think we all know that wanting something doesn’t make it so.

As a matter of fact, I think that there’s one source of, well, frankly unfairness over which we have absolutely no control at all. Therefore, we really don’t have any choice but to accept one plain and simple truth. You see, we may need to live with the fact that God isn’t fair. Let me say it again; God isn’t fair. Now I know that might make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, but I’m telling he just plain isn’t; and I say that for two reasons we’ve already talked about.

I mean, think about, first, what we receive from him is definitely not what we deserve, and that certainly violates our standard of fairness. And I’ll tell you, I really think we see that going on in the prophecy we read from Isaiah. Remember, Isaiah said, “...everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” I’ll tell you, that’s not fair, to buy wine without money. Sounds like what’s wrong with our welfare system, right? And remember Isaiah said, “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” My gosh, that’s not fair either. Why should they have rich food while I’m eating spam? And remember, he also said, “Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. ...See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.” Now, that’s certainly not fair, not when you consider that the prophet has already said this about God’s people: “The Lord rises to argue his case; he stands to judge the peoples. The Lord enters into judgement with the elders and princes of his people: It is you who have devoured the vineyard; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.” And yet, now they will stand at the center of the world, something they didn’t earn and don’t deserve, and that’s not fair.

In fact, it’s no more fair than what God has given us. I mean, just look at the world that the Father created for us, with everything we need to survive and even flourish, if, that is, we use it wisely and share it with compassion. And just consider the work of the Son. My gosh, almost two thousand years before we were born, God himself entered our time and space so that we could understand the nature of God. And when he died on the cross, so did we and by that death we were freed from the power of sin. And then when he was raised, he showed us that a new day had begun, the day of resurrection, and the time was coming when our graves will be as empty as his tomb. And finally, when we ascended, he brought our humanity into the being of God himself; therefore, when we suffer, he not only knows it, he feels it. And that’s just the Son. And through the Holy Spirit, all this is brought into our lives right this minute. Now, did we do anything to earn it? Did we do anything to deserve it? Absolutely nothing. And yet, this is what God has already done for us, and that’s one thing that isn’t fair.

And second, the reason he did it isn’t fair either. I mean, remember how we said that to be truly fair, you have to be impartial. Well, I’m telling you, God regards us as his children. Man, he loves us. And with love, there’s partiality, isn’t there? And again, we see that reflected in this passage. You see, God wants to show mercy, and that’s why Isaiah wrote, “...let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” And it’s as thought he knew that this kind of compassion and mercy and grace would be confusing to his people, and that’s why, speaking for God, Isaiah wrote, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”You see, although they continued to get themselves into trouble and paid the consequences for their stumbles, God loved his people. He always did and always would.

And you know, I believe that’s exactly how he sees us. You see, in spite of what we do, in spite of where we go, in spite of how we act and who we become, God loves us. Do you believe that? God loves us. And his love is unconditional, because it’s grounded in who he is and not what we do. And his love is unchanging, which means it’s there even on those days when we are anything but lovable. And his love is eternal, you see, it’s not bound by time; therefore, it’s present today and will be tomorrow and a million years from tomorrow. I guess we need to accept the fact that we’re God’s children and that he loves us and for those reasons God is indeed on our side. He’s partial, and that isn’t fair either.

Now, I think I can understand why kids throw fairness up at us all the time. You see, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and since fairness is so important to us, why should it not be important to them? No, I think we all would love to live in a fair world, one where everyone makes decisions impartially and in which everyone gets exactly what they deserve. Of course, if we could create this kind of world, I’m sure we’d still have plenty of stuff about which to complain. But I’ll tell you, there’s one little bit of unfairness that we probably shouldn’t complain about at all. You see, when you think about it, God doesn’t give us what we deserve; instead he gives us something a whole lot better. And since we’re his children and he loves us, he’s as partial to us as loving parents would be to their sons and daughters. I’m telling you right here and now, God isn’t fair at all. Instead, he’s compassionate and merciful and gracious.

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