Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church

When Bad Things Happen

Genesis 29:15-28

Well… we just spent a week hearing about a national tragedy… the death of President John F. Kennedy's only son, John Jr.… his wife, Carolyn… and her sister, Lauren… and at this point… there is no doubt in our minds that bad things happen to good people. It's a fact of life… a fact of your life… a fact of my life. It's difficult to accept… and it's impossible to understand. It happens to you… and it happens to me… the difficult times… the tragic loss of a child… struggling with illness… trying to make ends meet… opportunities missed… dreams unfulfilled… the discontent… the unhappiness… the anger… the pain… and we are left wondering what we did to deserve it. It doesn't matter who you are… rich and famous… or just plain Bill… the fact is that bad things do happen to good people!

Actually… everything that happens to us… to you… or to me… or to the beautiful people… is over-determined. That's a new concept to me… one that I was just introduced to this past week. It means that everything that happens has many contributing factors.

That tragic airplane crash for example… they had hoped to get to their destination before dark… but Lauren was late. John was inexperienced at night flying and perhaps over-confident in his abilities. The weather was hot and a blinding haze developed over the water as the air cooled with the sunset. Those were some of the contributing factors that we know about… and undoubtedly there were many others.

There's never just one reason… or cause… for any event in our lives… nothing is that simple… everything is much more complex… the events in our lives… good or bad… are always over-determined.

What happened to Jacob in our story today seems at first glance to be a simple trick played on him by his uncle… who was also his employer. We might go so far as to say that he deserved what he got… after all he had played a cruel trick on his brother Esau… and now he had gotten his just deserts. It seems we could certainly say that he got what he deserved… the tables had been turned… and Jacob was now the fool who had to pay the price.

On the other hand… even this situation was over-determined. I think it is apparent from earlier passages that Jacob valued the blessing much more highly than did Esau. Esau sold the birthright for a bowl of soup! Jacob valued his parents' wishes that he should not marry a Canaanite woman… and he traveled a long way to secure a wife from among his relatives. Jacob apparently placed a great deal of value on his love for Rachel… after all he worked seven years for the privilege of having her for his wife… and then another seven! This guy couldn't have been all bad!

Actually… Jacob was an ambitious… effective… and determined man… the very characteristics we admire most in men today… and we expect them to be rewarded positively and well. We sometimes wish that we were more ambitious… willing to strive for better things… more effective… better able to get what we want… more determined to achieve our goals. Actually… Jacob wasn't very much different from us… he was looking out for number one… just like we do. He also was a good man to whom bad things happened.

Well… so far I guess I've painted a rather pessimistic view of our lives. Apparently… since things are always over-determined… with many contributing circumstances… we have very little control over what happens to us. And even though we try to be upstanding citizens... good husbands and wives… good mothers and fathers… good church members… the fact is that we can expect bad things to happen… and we will not be disappointed! Such pessimism is not uncommon in our world today. The outcome does appear to be dismal.

And yet here we are today… gather together to worship and to celebrate… because something happened almost two thousand years ago that changed the course of human events… and now we know that the outcome is not going to be what we would naturally expect. There has been a miraculous turning of the tables… and we are the beneficiaries.

Two thousand years ago… in the Christ event… we learn that death is not the end. We learned… in fact… that even death cannot hold us captive… that God has intervened on our behalf… and our death is only the beginning of life with him. We are here to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ… and to worship the God who saves us.

God has chosen to bless us… rather than to curse us… and Jacob's story is one of fulfillment. God promised Jacob that he would prosper and have many children… so what happened in today's story was a minor setback… actually a part of the plan… to be used by God to fulfill his promise. You see… at the end of fourteen years Jacob had two wives… two concubines… and several children… and over the next several years he tricked Laban out of his livestock and became extremely rich.

But… what is more important to us is that God promised Jacob that his life would be a blessing to the world… a blessing to us. And, indeed… through Jacob eventually came Jesus Christ… God with us… who is the means of our salvation… the one overwhelming determining factor that changes the outcome for the world. Where there should be despair… behold… there is hope. God has intervened and nothing is what it seems. Paul says it well…

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Through Jacob came the Christ… and through Christ came the resurrection. All is well with the world… for all things… both the good and the bad… work together to fulfill God's plan of redemption.

Let us pray.

Thank you, Lord, for the hope you give us in Jesus Christ. May it be real in our lives today and every day as we face the bad things that are bound to happen to us. You have intervened on our behalf… and you have called us to faith. Help us to claim your promises for ourselves… for our loved ones… for all those whom you love… for your world. May we rely in every situation on your presence with us and live our lives in that sure knowledge. Amen.

A Sermon Preached on July 25, 1999
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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