ST.STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH MARCH 1, 2020
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
NEVER AGAIN: FAIL TO ASK, “WHY ME?”
James 1: 2 – 5; Matthew 25: 1 – 13
The Fiddler on the Roof, takes place in Russia at the time of the pogroms which were state- supported, large scale, repeated acts of violence designed to persecute, drive out or massacre the Jews. Tevye, a poor milk farmer, addresses God, “Why me, God? Why the Jews? I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” We all ask, “Why me?” Sometimes in life, bad things or bad people happen. Through no fault of one’s own, you experience mistreatment, abuse, crime, or abandonment. Life also hands us tragedy and heartache. Illness, accidents, natural disasters, war or starvation, the death of a loved one or our own death can also cause us to ask, “Why me?” The Bible tells us God is on the side of the innocents, he will help them to survive and heal, and he promises a coming day when all harm ends. Christians have been known to lay heavy burdens on victims. We suggest they don’t have enough faith, or they’ve disappointed God so they’re being punished. Other religions believe it’s karma evening the score, or we’ve “attracted” this evil by our own desires, or our faith is being tested, or we’re being punished. In our culture we “blame the victim”, they were “asking for it”. We hold the victim responsible for another person’s violating actions. Our lack of compassion re-victimizes the victim; we wound them again. In these situations, the question “why me?” is a normal human response and it can lead us to encounter God in new and deep ways. In the midst of life’s crises, God shares our pain, draws us close to him, strengthen and heals us. For this Christ died.
Asking “why me?” can also be a dangerous question, leading to self-pity and self-pity leads to helplessness and helplessness leads to paralysis. We feel powerless to crawl out of the pit. The pat answer is, “why not me?” Bad things happen to everyone. As Christians, “why me?” is a “God question”: Did God will this? Did God make it happen? Does God have it in for me personally? Does God have a purpose behind this? It’s hard to accept that, because of sin, we live in a world doesn’t reflect God’s perfect will; random things happen, the earth shifts, our DNA encodes certain illnesses in us. To live is to face trials. Listen again to what James wrote about that, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when trials come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So, don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work, so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.” (James 1: 2 – 5). The word “trials” is also translated as tribulations or tests. When facing hardship many assume God is testing our faithfulness. It’s like a pass or fail exam. This isn’t what “test” means. When metals or minerals are being refined, purified and strengthened, often in fire or under pressure, we say they’re being, “tested.” James tells us to “Consider it a sheer gift” or in the NRSV “consider it nothing but joy” when we’re in the pressure cooker of life. I read that and I think, “What? You’ve got to be kidding me! How sick is that? I just got fired from my job; my baby’s sick; my spouse is cheating; my truck broke down and my dog just died, and you’re telling me it’s a gift! I should be joyful! I don’t think so.” That’s a normal and healthy response. None of those things are good in themselves. They’re not joyful experiences. James isn’t telling us not to feel the pain, hurt, confusion, anxiety and disappointment within these trials. He expects we will. He also encourages us take a different stance; he’s asking us not to lose our focus on the big picture – on God’s presence in the midst of our suffering. Through everything, the Spirit is at work within us. The heat from the fire reveals the “true colours” of our faith. God wants us to turn towards him with our sorrow and needs. James tells us, if we don’t give up, we will mature. Our trials are opportunities for us to be complete. They lead to wholeness. Have you ever experienced something that felt like the ‘end of the world’, only to look back and realize it was the best thing that happened to you? It brought you closer to God, challenged your weaknesses and led to new life. During these times of anguish, we grow; we mature; we become stronger. They call out the best in us. If we persevere, we will survive our circumstances and perhaps even thrive in the aftermath. They also make us more compassionate. This growth in character are the gifts of a loving God. As Paul assures us, “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8: 28). James reminds us that when we pray to the Father, he loves to help us. God gives “generously to all without finding fault” (NRSV). Failure isn’t something most people enjoy. When we fail we find fault with ourselves. We see ourselves in a critical light. We think we’re “not good enough” which leads us to thinking we’re “bad” and “unworthy”. We allow our failure to defeat us. God treats us much better than we treat ourselves. He treats us gently and generously. He understands that we’re growing. He wants us to blossom as people so we can be a blessing to others.
There’s another way in which it’s important to never again fail to ask, “why me?” The minister was in the middle of a sermon when she turned to the Clerk of Session and said, “That man in the third row is asleep. Could you nudge him and wake him up, please?” The Clerk replied, “You put him to sleep. You wake him up!” It’s difficult for people to take responsibility for their own actions or patterns of behaviour. We lie, we deflect, we blame, we avoid, we do everything but confess. That’s because the truth hurts. It makes us miserable before it sets us free. Two women were visiting over coffee when one said, “you’re right. I’ve had 9 lazy men in my life and I’m not going to get another one.” Her friend replied, “No. You’ve had one lazy man with 9 different names. You always pick the same man over and over.” The first woman had been through a lot. She carried the weight in all her relationships, she’d been used, and she’d been abandoned. No doubt she thought, “Why me? Why do these men find me? Why do I always have to work?” This woman didn’t want to be used. She didn’t set out to find lazy men, but she was playing a part in her repeated situation. Rather than being a victim who asks, “why me?”, she needed to ask, “why me? What part am I playing in this situation? What can I learn or do differently to turn my life around?” In some situations, we’re not only acted upon, but we’re also actors playing our part. Jesus told the parable of the 10 bridesmaids who ran out of oil waiting for the groom. 5 of them brought an extra supply and 5 didn’t. When the 5 who didn’t saw that their friends had extra, they thought their friends should share. They tried to hold them responsible for their own poor planning. The friends said, “Sorry, we can’t” and went to the party. The 5 who were scrambling around for oil, missed their opportunity. When they arrived, the door was locked. They were shut out. Were those first 5 bridesmaids terrible, selfish people. Wouldn’t Jesus tell them to share their oil? No – Jesus commended them. What would have happened if the 5 prepared bridesmaids had shared their oil? There wouldn’t have been enough to go around. They’d have ended up locked out of the wedding as well. Jesus urged his listeners to “stay alert!” (Matthew 25: 13) In other words, be responsible for yourself. You’re not responsible for everyone around you, but you will bear the consequences for your own shortcomings.
Like the woman with the 9 men, one of the things to which we need to be alert are patterns in our lives. Are always surrounded by critical people or alcoholics? Do you feel like people take you for granted? Are you constantly passed over for promotions? Do you never complete a project? Do your children sass you? Do you see many doctors even though you’re told you’re healthy? Are your ideas ignored? Are you always in debt? Do your friendships end with cut off? Are you attracted to cheaters? Are you always exhausted? Do others avoid you? Do you leave a trail of chaos behind you? Do you blame your parents for your problems? Do people ignore your boundaries? Ok. You get the idea. When our patterns of behaviour leave us injured, or if they injure others, it’s time to ask, “why me? What’s my part in my life?” The only person responsible for dandruff prevention is you because it falls on your shoulders.
The biggest development in the treatment of addiction in the last decades has been the insights into co-dependency. Addicts need a codependent to stay addicted and codependent people are drawn to addicts. They match each other. One is the ying, to the others yang. The addict won’t take responsibility for his or her life and the codependent feel responsible for irresponsible people. They are drawn to each other like metal to magnets. Let me be clear, a co-dependent doesn’t turn someone into an alcoholic or drug user. That behaviour is on the one who doesn’t stop their substance abuse. Their co-dependent partner only participates in as much as they rescue the other from their accountability for themselves and their life. When the co-dependent finally asks, “Why me? What role am I playing”, he or she wakes up to their rescuing behaviour. By remaining alert and not rescuing, they free themselves from a life of self-inflicted martyrdom. Sometimes, the shift in pattern even paves the way for the addict to change. Likewise, in dysfunctional families. When one person begins to make new choices and breaks the pattern, the others have to re-adjust.
One of the most depressing feelings in life is powerlessness. The feeling that we’re helpless and all is hopeless. One of the greatest things about our faith is that even when life throws us a curve ball, even when our worst imaginings turn into reality, even when we are stuck in our own destructive patterns, we are not powerless victims. In Christ, we are more than conquerors. We can make new choices. We can live differently. We can grow, mature and shine with the light of Christ because we’re able to ask and receive help from the God who is all-powerful, and who never leaves us no matter what we face. So, when you’re faced with one of life’s many troubles, never again fail to ask “why me?”