July 23, 2023 Sermon: All Things Work Together For The Good
Rev. Steve Nofel
First & Franklin Street Presbyterian Church
July 23, 2023
Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
Except for comic books, as a young person, I was not much of a reader. I only became a reader AFTER my college days. So, I caught up on those books I should read. One of them was Night by Elie Wiesel. It is the story of his life in Nazi concentration camps. It was one of the hardest reads of my life.
One time the Nazis killed a young man for no reason by hanging him and leaving him for everyone to see. An old woman was screaming at the devout Jews who continued to worship even in Auschwitz. “Where is your God now?!? Where is your God now!?!” One person pointed at the boy and then spread his arms out around them saying in a broken voice. “God is right there. God is right there.”
Honestly, it took me a long time to understand that. All these years living in and living out my faith I still have to work at remembering sometimes. And when it soak into me, it GIVES ME MORE COMFORT THAN I COULD EVER HAVE ASKED FOR OR IMAGINED.
St. Paul sings out in Romans 8: All things work together for the good for those who love God! That is a hard one when we are in the middle of the night. That is a hard one to understand when we are in the midst of the hardest fight. Please note Paul says “all things work together for the GOOD. I looked it up – every English translation of Romans 8:28 says God works everything out for the good. Not for the happy, glad, gleeful, joyful, cheerful or jolly. God works all things for the good.
How can having, quoting my doctor, “a life-changing, tremendous, huge” heart attack on a Saturday afternoon be good? Kim and I sure didn’t see good at the time. The dark of night struck. The weeds of pain, fear, and destruction hit us. The good: a great hospital. Libby stepping in and preaching my sermon, THANK YOU! Outreach from all over the U.S. And a great excuse that I am using to the max, “I can’t do that. I just had a heart attack…”
As I continue this sermon, I realize it is going to wander around some, but hey…I just had a heart attack… As Lauren Daigle sings paraphrasing the Scriptures in God’s voice – “I hear you whisper underneath your breath. I hear your S.O.S. I will send out an army to find you in the middle of the darkest night. In the middle of the hardest fight. I will rescue you.”
How can I believe that rescue, that Jesus presence watching my mother die inch-by-inch? How can God work that for the good? Where is my God? Where is the rescue? Mom had lung cancer and was losing. The family called and said, “Get home now!”
You know where I was when I got that call? I was surrounded by my friends from Good Shepherd PC. attending a Christian concert by SCC, who sang, “His strength is perfect when our strength is gone. He carries us when we can’t carry one. Raised in his power the weak become strong. His strength is perfect.”
Before I go on, you need just part of the back story between me and Mom. When I was a Catholic Priest. I had a wac relation who told her that the mother of a priest got a free pass into heaven. When I left being a priest, Mom did not agree with my decision for several reasons and because of that wac Mom felt fear. Was her own personal salvation was at stake. So, the day I told she and Dad, I wasn’t going to be a priest no more – they threw me out of the house. Literally! Let me tell you, that can put a strain on a relationship. All things are working together for the good? Yes!
A brother’s intervention, a great daughter in law, two grandsons, a lot of prayer, the HS and realizing the wac relation was a dope – After time Mom, Dad and I ended up where we started. Very, very close. We were very good with each other. With time, lots of patience and knowing that the Lord is near, Mom and Dad and I remembered the Apostle Paul’s assurance of Romans 8: Those whom Jesus calls he saves. Those whom he saves he glorifies.”
So, I get the call, Mom is actively dying. I race home from Nebraska to Cleveland, and somehow Mom decided she wasn’t going to die with me in the house. 10 days…I read the whole book Lonesome Dove. That thick and I am a slow reader. She finally told me, “Go home. Your family and your church need you. I’m fine.” Believe me it wasn’t glee we were feeling. But as I was leaving for the airport, it hit us both: God works all things together for the good for those who love God.
But we still had to say goodbye. What do you say? Knowing it is the last thing you are ever going to say to each other? She looked me hard in my good eye and said, “Ask God’s blessing. Give me your blessing.” I knelt down and made the sign of the cross on her forehead, saying, “The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the oneness of the Holy Spirit be with you, and all your loved ones, near and far, now and forever and ever. Amen.” Then I said, “Your turn.”
She asked God’s blessing upon me, making the sign of the cross on my forehead. Our last touch and last words.
Who could ever have imagined when she threw me out of the house when I told her I wasn’t going to be a priest anymore? If we act hastily to condemn, ignore or try to rip out the hard in our lives, we can do permanent damage to ourselves, our relationships with one another and our relationship with our God. Part of living out my faith, my love, trust and devotion to Jesus is not coming up with all the answers. It is not ignoring the hurt and the hard. It is not making a plan and working the plan and fix everything right away.
Sometimes, most of the time our loving trust is patience. The patience of Job. The weeds and the wheat of life grow together, and our faithful savior is doggedly with us in all of it. As Job cried out while sitting on the dung heap of life – “I know that my Savior lives, and at the last we will stand upon the earth together.”
In chapter 5 of his Letter, James begs us, “Be patient beloved, until the coming of the Lord. You must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the Lord is near.”
I say this with tongue firmly in cheek: I hope you realize what a peach you have in me as your interim pastor. I am the bees knees when it comes to being a transitional pastor. I am an acknowledged expert and just a wonder at this. Remember, I said when I got word about my Mom I was with my friends from Good Shepherd Church? I was their interim pastor at the time, and they were going through dark times that I had never imagined a church could experience. I was called to serve them, and I had no earthly idea of what to do. So, I smiled a lot. Told them I love them. Jesus loves them. The Lord is near. And I was patient. No program. No expertise. No bees knees skills or knowhow. I was patient. I was kind. I listened. I hung out. What I did do was remember, God works all things for the good. I also panicked a lot and kept cool on the outside, despite myself. Also, despite myself, I was patient. I had a feeling if I started to rip away at the bad stuff. If I took on the hard with a frontal assault. It would be a disaster.
The church healed. They remembered they were very good. They came to believe once again they were a great church. I sat back and watched it all happen. No plan except give Jesus time to let the weeds and wheat grow together and then with Him, harvest the good.
I developed quite the reputation as a “go to” transitional pastor. Which decades later brought me to Baltimore Presbytery. Which a year ago (can you believe it has been a year?) brought me to Churchville Presbyterian Church. God works all things together for the good for those who love God. Together we have reveled in watching the wheat of faith, hope and love grow. We have encountered the hard and let the hard play out with patience – sometimes panic in my heart! But we have been patient with one another, with me (thank you) and our faithful Savior. I sit back and enjoy watching it all happen. No plan except give Jesus time to let the weeds and wheat grow together and then with Him, harvest the good.
As I make the “State of the Church” presentation in a couple of weeks, we will know once again, that Churchville Presbyterian Church is great. With Jesus near we can and do shine like the sun. I leave you with this, my last words to you (just for today – no panic, feeling great) Patience is the spiritual and practical calling in our lives and in the life of our church. The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the oneness of the Holy Spirit be with you, and all your loved ones, near and far, now and forever and ever. Amen.
ABOUT REV. STEVE NOFEL: Steve was originally ordained in another denomination 32 years ago. He has been a PCUSA pastor for 28 plus years. His wife, Kim, is also a PCUSA pastor. Right after they were married, they moved to her first call in southeast Nebraska. Steve fell into interim / transitional ministry and found his calling. He served as an interim minister for 11 years. Then Kim and Steve became co-pastors for 12 years in Cortez, Colorado. After leaving Cortez, he once again found his niche in transitional ministry. Steve has been serving congregations in Baltimore Presbytery as “Staff Interim” for the last year.