Sunday I preached a sermon based on Psalm 29 that included a story of an experience I had on the high school mission trip I am excerpting below. If you are interested in the full context of the story, you can hear the sermon at http://www.presbyweb.org/ or you can read it at http://www.fpcfranklin.org/. Here’s the excerpt:
“As many of you know, I was able to be with the high school youth for part of this past week in Port Arthur, Texas, on a mission work trip. We were assigned a home to work on that had been damaged in Hurricane Rita three years ago. The roof had been damaged and water had come in and ruined the ceilings in a bedroom and the kitchen. One of our tasks was to rip out the ceilings and replace them.
Colln Henry and I were placed on demolition duty. I’m sure they were trying to keep me as far away as possible from anything approaching skilled labor. We were so good at tearing out the ceiling in the bedroom that the next day we were asked to do the same job in the kitchen. Some relatives had been in the house in previous months, had done some work in the kitchen, and had managed to tear out the ceiling and replace about half of it with new dry wall. I did not know this. I’m sure Colln did, but he was not one to question the authority of his pastor, so he said nothing when I announced that we would start on the front side of the kitchen and work our way back. The front side was the brand new dry wall.
We punched through it and began ripping it out. We got about half way through the front, when someone walked by and broke the news to us. We were horrified and quite sure that the homeowner would ban us from the site once we told her what we had done. Suddenly the room was filled with cameras, and I figured I needed to go ahead and tell you now, since these images will no doubt grace the screens in Wilson Hall soon enough.
The homeowners, a grandmother, her daughter and granddaughter and two small children, had been living in the aftermath of this storm, in a house filled with mold, ceilings falling down around them, for three years. Someone in their family had come in and taken time to give them a new ceiling, a ceiling which we had just ripped out for no reason.
When they went to get the grandmother to tell her, I immediately set about looking busy, not wanting to face her. So I didn’t see her face, but heard very clearly her words: “Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason.” At first I thought maybe she had misunderstood what we had done. Surely she would be upset. But no, it was clear that she fully comprehended, but was choosing to see something else besides the chaos and failure, to make meaning where there was no meaning to be made. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Now, I’ve got to tell you, I have never really believed that. I believe that sometimes bad things just happen, and that if there is a reason, it is one that we will not be able to see this side of glory. Hurricanes strike, cancer attacks, people lose their jobs, wars are waged, death arrives, and unknowing but well-meaning pastors are handed crowbars, unsupervised. Some things just don’t make good sense…
Colln and I kept tearing out the new ceiling; the damage had been done. As we did, we made a discovery. A portion of the ceiling had not been insulated when the previous work was done, a significant oversight that would have cost the family over time. This would never have been discovered had we not made the mistake of punching through that new dry wall.
I told you that I don’t really believe it, but all through the plane ride home and in the days since, I can’t shake those words: “Everything happens for a reason.” We were told the homeowners were not church people, but I have my doubts, for behind that phrase, “everything happens for a reason,” there seems to be a deeper faith that sees, riding on the storm – in this case quite literally – One who, in the end, gives even a storm meaning.
In the midst of the storm, what do you see? May we be given eyes to see not chaos, but the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Rider on the storm, enthroned on the waves. Amen.”
In the days following I have had no fewer than twenty different conversations with people about the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” Some strongly disagree with the sentiment; others not only believe it is true, but structure their lives around it, seeking to make meaning out of even the most devastating and tragic of situations. The conversations have been so lively and important that I wanted to continue them here on this blog.
So what do you think? Does everything happen for a reason?