Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church

RIDING THE ROLLER COASTER
OF LIFE

Exodus 16:2-15


Yesterday… returning from Slidell… I passed by the site of the new "jazz" theme park going up along I510. At least I assume that's what it is… one of the structures being built there sure looks like a roller coaster to me. Have you seen it? Will you visit the park when it opens? Will you ride on the roller coaster? It's my favorite ride… and I've always regretted the demise of Ponchatrain Beach and the old Zephar roller coaster. I hope I have a chance one day to ride on this new one… just as long as it doesn't take me upside down!

They say that life is like a roller coaster ride… it has its ups and downs, doesn't it? We reach the heights of joy only to be plummeted into the depths of despair in the next moment… or so it seems.

Looking forward to life… as children do… we excitedly anticipate the pleasures in store. Looking back… we realize how fleeting… and bumpy… life really is. Some once said "The art of life is to know how to enjoy a little and to endure very much."

It seems that in this day and age… a normal life… the life that we try to achieve for ourselves… is one with fewer ups and down. We try to live our lives on level ground… with fewer bumps... and certainly no extreme highs or lows. We want our lives to remain on a 1Quote by William Hazlitt fairly even keel.

Maybe the popularity of roller coaster rides tells us something about how well we have succeeded in taking the bumps out of our personal lives. Certainly as Presbyterians we never allow ourselves to get too emotional… except for Cindy, of course… and mostly we enjoy her joy and enthusiasm vicariously.

Perhaps we tell ourselves that if we avoid the heights of ecstasy… we won't have to experience the depth of despair. And you know what? That's probably true. The pendulum only swings as far to one side as it swung to the other. If we never allow ourselves to be too joyful… then we won't ever be too sad.

We even take medication to keep us from swinging from one extreme to the other. One that I am personally familiar with is called lithium… a medication I took for four years to help me learn how to live my life on a more even keel. I still have heights and depths but I'm more "normal" than I was before!

Well… you know… the Israelites didn't have the benefit of our "enlightenment"… or our medication! They felt all the exuberant joy of escaping the Egyptians… being freed from slavery at last… and they celebrated with great abandonment. That's a strange expression isn't it? What did they abandon? Well, I think they abandoned their self-restraint… their reserve. I don't know how the kids today would describe it but in my day we would have said "they blew their cool." In other words… they surrendered themselves to their joy… and they celebrated. They expressed their joy… and they thanked God… by singing and dancing and shouting… and "letting it all hang out!"

In our more "enlightened" times… we live lives of quiet desperation… stuffing our feelings down to the point of not even knowing they exist! Do you feel any joy today? Would you even know joy if you felt it? Or are we all "dead where we sit?"

I can't help but wonder why we do this to ourselves? I think about the times when we get wild… and really let go... amusement parks… sports events… drag races… Mardi Gras… all acceptable outlets for our enthusiasm. It's "OK" to yell… and scream… and act exuberantly at these events... but certainly not at worship!

There was another mass murder this past week in Texas. I can't help but wonder if these episodes are not the result of our self-imposed rigidity. When apparently "normal" people go berserk… and unleash their pent-up feelings all over society in a spray of bullets… a thinking person might wonder about all this emphasis on keeping an even keel… this tendency to stuff our emotions instead of expressing them in a more healthy way.

Well… it's true that emotional highs are going to be followed by emotional lows… and that's exactly what happened to the Israelites. It wasn't very long at all before their exuberance and joy dissolved in grumbling and unhappiness. First they got hungry… and then they got angry… and then they began to long for the "good old days"… and they began to grumble.

I would like to suggest to you that getting unhappy… and down… and grumbling is a far cry from going out and shooting everybody in sight. Being unhappy… feeling down… and grumbling about it is as natural a part of life as being excited… joyful… happy… and these are feelings that we need to take to God as well.

Of course… the Israelites did exactly what you and I do… they grumbled among themselves first… and then they grumbled to their leader, Moses… blaming him for their predicament: "What have you done?" they asked. "Look where we have ended up! Out here in the wilderness… and there's not a McDonald's in sight! Where did you think you were taking us, anyway? We'd have been better off if we had never started on this "great adventure!"

Boy… does that sound familiar! Isn't that what we say when we talk about politics? Isn't that what we say when we run into trouble with our career… our marriage… our lives? Isn't that what we say when we get unhappy with the direction our church is taking?

Yes… grumbling… and passing the blame… is a natural part of our lives… and it's easy to get stuck there! The Isarelites did it over and over again… everything that happened was always Moses' fault!

Some of us have become chronic grumblers… or blamers… it can easily become a way of life. But Moses makes an excellent point here… when he responds to his accusers. "It was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt… you are not grumbling against me but against the Lord!"

The next time you go along I510… take a look at that structure being built to support the roller coaster ride. We seldom think about the support structure when we are on the ride... do we? But the fact is that it's there and it allows the rider to fully experience the ups and downs knowing that they are firmly supported at all times.

Be reminded, folks… that God is like that roller coaster structure. We seldom think about it while we are on the ride… but the fact is God is the structure beneath us… supporting us… keeping us on the path through all the ups and downs in life. We were never intended to experience an even ride through life… and it is foolish and unnecessary for us to try and create it. With a support system like God provides we are free to delight in the ups and be distressed by the downs. God expects us to share both with him… our thanksgiving and our grumbling… our joy and our sorrow… our peace and our turmoil. Let's take the risk… and celebrate life! Amen.


A Sermon Preached on September 19, 1999.
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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