Years ago, I was a regular at a coffee shop. I would chitchat with the cashier, Sharon, as I checked out, and little by little, we got to know little things about one another.
Sharon was going to the community college that was not far from the shop. She was a young single mom and planning to become a nurse. It was easy to see that Sharon had a positive outlook on life.
Paying for my coffee, I would ask her how she was doing, she would always say, “Doing great. I’m living the dream.”
With her always saying that, I was beginning to wonder, although, if Sharon had a sense of humor that tended towards sarcasm. Was she coping with her life by pointing out the paradoxes of life because that’s what I do?
Sharon was not living her dream. She was a cashier in a coffee shop and not working her dream job as a nurse.
Although I’ve moved on and don’t go to that coffee shop any longer, I wonder if Sharon has moved on to realize her dream of becoming a nurse.
You know how I can go overboard when it comes to analyzing things, but can you take a minute and think about your dreams that you have for your life, and then, ask yourself, “Am I living my dream?”
Probably, in some ways, you can say, “Yes, I am living my dream.”
“I wanted to become a teacher, so I became one.” “I wanted to start my own business, so I do have my own business.” “I wanted to buy a house, so I do have my own home.” “I wanted a family, so I got married and had kids”.
But, in some other ways, life has not turned out how you wanted it to. You have to admit that part of the dream did not come true.
For me, I should be right now a retired Cubs pitcher and living by the laurels of my records that are still not broken. Or, I’m in France right now as part of my tour of the world as a jazz pianist. Or, I’m up in a mountain cabin writing another great American novel.
I had a lot of dreams growing up. More dreams than any one person could possibly live out.
Can I ask you another question, and again, we don’t have to go too deep with the answer, but let’s reflect on it for a moment to make a point here.
In this time and place of your life with all of its situations and all the roles that you play, “How happy are you right now?”
What are you thinking and feeling about when it comes to your life?
How is it possible that are hopes for the future can be so big and so grand that they make our present moments look so small and dismal?
I think about Sharon from time to time because as I teach college, I see so many young people like her with their plans.
There’s a poster by the entrance of the college that says, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.”
Wow! Talk about pressure.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in shooting for the stars. But, maybe Sharon was not sarcastic when saying she was living the dream.
As I said with just small talk, I didn’t get to know Sharon very well. But, she did have a daughter whom I’m sure was a joy to raise. She had a job that paid the bills, and she was moving forward in life by taking classes at the community college.
Sharon had a lot of reasons to be happy. She was moving forward. Isn’t it when yesterday’s dream is fulfilled that we can be happy in our current time and place?
Here’s just one more analytical question: Does everything in the dream have to turn out as we dreamed in order for us to be happy?
And here’s my sarcasm. If you are looking for things to turn out as you want them to turn out all the time in order to be happy, I have to say with a little bit of a biting tone but with the best intentions, “Good luck with that!”
I think we have all lived long enough to know that life just doesn’t turn out as we want it to turn out.
To test this thought by going to extremes, we all know that “bad” things happen in the world, and at times, in our lives. And, sometimes, those “bad” things really hit us hard making it seem that all dreams are lost forever.
It’s just too much of an illustration during a Christmas parade this past Sunday in Waukesha, Wisconsin that we find out how real “bad” can be.
People of all ages are coming together for a celebration, and the worst thing happens.
This time of year is suppose to make people happy, but it turned into a time of shock and sorrow.
When I turned on the news Sunday evening, I saw too much of an illustration of how there is “bad” in the world.
We want to ask like we often do when “bad” things happen, “Why did it happen, and what am I to do now?”
Those questions are quite deep, and to answer these questions completely, it’s impossible.
The best that we could do is to go down to the church basement, put on some pots of coffee, get dozens of donuts, break out the Bibles, and have a study on how sin came into the world and how “bad” things come from sin.
And, we could talk for awhile about evil and how evil lashes out from time to time.
But, Waukesha, Wisconsin is not too far from here.
I have an aunt, uncle, and cousins who live there. I’ve been there many times.
When I saw the news on Sunday evening, I called my mom, and my mom called her brother, and he said they did not go to the parade, so they were okay.
They had called their friends who were at the parade, and they were okay.
It seems like we are always missing the worst, but I’m getting nervous, for “bad” news is hitting closer and closer to home.
In our times and places, in our own lives, in our families, and in our neighborhoods, in our city, we are shocked and in sorrow over the “bad” that is here.
For me, I have to deal with the guilt of emotionally distancing myself as I see so much “bad” not far my life, for it can get so overwhelming.
But, I don’t want to become a numb and cold person, for I know we are to be people of compassion.
Since Waukesha is so close to here, and we do feel for the people there in their loses, I’ve done a little imagining if I was a pastor of church in Waukesha.
In a sermon this Sunday in Waukesha, I might be asking myself, “How would I be talking about how we should be expecting “bad” things to happen in a sinful world, and how would I explain how it’s mostly a mystery to us that we just have to try to keep getting through it?”
Although an understanding about how “bad” things happen might help, I’m not sure the people who are grieving want an explanation of church doctrine.
What the people want in Waukesha is to have the clock reversed. They want to go back to a time when they had their loved ones with them.
They want to go back to when they were happy and were living their dreams.
They want to have the Christmas season ahead of them with all its anticipations of joy.
But, we can’t go back and have things as we want them to be.
We are made to be forward moving beings. And here is the hardest part-we are to keep moving forward in the all the “bad” things of life that can happen.
As I think about what I would preach today in Waukesha, I know all sermons are to talk about sin and grace. Basically, in one way or another in a sermon, we hear about how we have sinned and are in need of forgiveness.
Then, we hear about how our comfort, peace, joy, and hope comes from knowing that our forgiveness has been earned for us by Jesus, whose death and resurrection makes us right again with God.
By Christ’s righteousness that is imputed to us, we are more than good to go to step into heaven one day.
Oops, there I go again explaining church doctrine.
And to say, I can even talk more and more about the doctrine of our salvation.
Most sermons will explain with support by Bible verses and church doctrine that we are saved by grace and grace alone.
With no doubt, that nutshell of a phrase, “saved by grace and grace alone,” is our comfort in all matters.
Although, if I was a pastor in Waukesha, I don’t think I would give a regular sermon because the sorrow is just to heavy.
My reason for not giving a regular sermon is I don’t think people want an explanation of why “bad” things happen.
Anyways, to be upfront with you, I don’t have a clue about why evil would strike those folks who were at a Christmas parade last Sunday in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
So, what do they do now? How do they move forward? How do they deal with it?
You know what? We need to deal with it, too, because we care for all people who are in any kind of need.
And to be open and honest, it could have been us.
Here is where I get overwhelmed. Every day in this place and time of a big city like ours, “bad” things happen every hour of every day.
What I’m about to say may at first seem not to be enough about how we get through it all but please give it a chance, for it has worked for centuries and centuries.
It’s quite simple, but don’t let its simplicity make you think it won’t work in the times and places where the worst happens.
It’s all a matter of hearing a message that tells of something that is above all else.
All that we need to do is to hear a message that is totally meant to bring comfort, peace, joy, and hope in all times and places.
Granted, this message does not answer every question, it does not instantly fix situations, and it does not give a to-do-list to follow to make things better.
But, I can say this message is so strong that it shines its brightest in the darkest places and times.
We are coming into a season of proclamations of this message.
Here are some of them:
An angel telling the virgin Mary this: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Or, an angel telling the shepherds this: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Or, John the Baptist who gives the shortest but most powerful Advent sermon when he sees Jesus coming to him: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Or, this proclamation from Simeon when he took the baby Jesus in his arms: “for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
All we need to do is to hear these proclamations that tell the Good News of a Lord and Savior coming into a fallen world to save it.
In the time and places of our lives, we wait for this news to take effect.
We can be confident that it has present results and will have lasting results, for its purpose in all times and places is to bring, comfort, peace, joy, and hope.
If I was a pastor in Waukesha today on this first Sunday after their losses with sorrow so deep, I’m not sure how I would say what I’m about to say to you.
I’m sure it would have been different.
But, it would be something about hearing the proclamation of a message.
So, in our time and place, let’s hear the proclamations. Let’s hear what was proclaimed about Jesus’ coming as our Lord and Savior. Let’s hear how it all became a reality.
Jesus’ coming and all that he did when he was here gives us comfort, peace, joy, and hope in all our times and places. This reality of Jesus’ coming is above all of the other realities of the world and our lives.
This reality can make us happy if we believe it and trust it.
Jesus did come and will come again. And when Jesus comes comes again to gather us to be in heaven forever, we will be so happy, for the happiest times are yet to come.
And if you don’t mind that I make a jump here with one more proclamation.
This proclamation happened when the women went to the tomb on that first Easter morning and had found that the stone was rolled away.
Listen to what happened, “And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
Let’s just hear this proclamation of a message that “bad” and even the last enemy of death does not have the final word.
Let’s just believe it and just trust it, and from there, let’s just wait and see what it does about our happiness as we live in all of our times and places.