FEELING ABANDONED BY GOD?
Romans 8: 31-35; 37-39
Two of our grown and married children each got newborn pups several years ago. One has a golden retriever and one has a black Labrador. What they were told when they got the puppies was that there is a window of time when training them would would be the most prudent and productive; the dogs would learn and retain what they had learned at their early age throughout their life. So Jenny and Brian, and Matt and Vicki, with the help of trainers, taught their young dogs how to listen to and respond to commands. Now years later, their dogs not only come when called and stop when told to stop, they are easy to have around. Another family I know got a black Labrador about ten years ago and never trained her. She was an unruly pup who grew into an unruly dog, chewing furniture, wetting floors, and barking at all hours. What a difference between one dog that was not trained and the two dogs that were trained. Early training made the difference. Children have minds and souls that are tablets on which to write, especially when they are young. They need good examples, proper teaching, and appropriate corrections. At young ages they are ready to hear certain stories from the Bible and they are ready to hear about their loving God! In high school my Spanish teacher taught me that the easiest time for a person to learn a foreign language is as a child! And the best way to teach a child is with what he called ‘The Nursery Rhyme Method” which is repeated sentences, often put to rhyme. In Vacation Bible School this week we tried to offer the best teaching that educators have taught us. But first our hats are off to parents who, perhaps in spite of their kids’ reluctance to be pulled away from a couch, a bed, or a TV, signed them up for this most important week; we had those five mornings to teach good values, good messages, and the reassurance of a good God. Second, our hats are off to the adult leaders who could have stayed home and kept with your regular routine. You said “yes” to something outside of your comfort zone and I think, if you look back, the week was worth that choice! Finally, our hats are off to youth who chose to come, many of who were Vacation Bible School children when they were younger, who now wanted to teach others! You bonded, you grew, and you learned along with us. What a valuable week to make an impression on children and their families! Even though we were teaching children, the same principles apply to them as they apply to animals: there is a window of time when children learn best. Our children were in that window, but the youth and adults learned too: they learned new stories, gained patience, offered grace, and the surprise of finding out you can do something that you put your mind to doing! This was a difference-making week!
Today I want all of you to be anchored in the lessons, verses, and stories that we taught this week. The title I chose proposed this question: “Feeling Abandoned by God?” For my doctoral thesis I met with people who did not exactly feel abandoned by God, but felt like God was far away, or that they could no longer connect, or they felt despair over losing touch with God. You may have seen the little refrigerator magnet that says, “If God seems far away, who moved?” Vacation Bible School has been planting in children’s souls the sure presence and love of God: no matter who were are, no matter how different we seem or how weird we feel, God is with you and loves you.
We all learned this week that “Even when you’re left out, JESUS LOVES YOU! You should know that too! You can find Jesus backing that up in Matthew 28: 20 when he says “I am with you always, even to the end of the age!” And the Bible describes what happened to a group of people who others avoided because they had a disease called leprosy. But we learned that Jesus approached 10 lepers and healed them in Luke 17. He showed that God loves and cares for even those who are sick or different. Nothing can keep us from the love of God. That’s actually my text for today. Romans 8 when the Apostle Paul, who was once the Christian-hater Saul, said “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.” Wow! Paul made a list of everything that people might think of, and he said “No not even that will make God stop loving you!” God abandon us? Never. After the story of Noah, God put any thoughts like that out of the question. God will never forsake us.
The next day in Vacation Bible School we learned that “Even though you’re different, JESUS LOVES YOU!” We learned about a Samaritan woman who others did not want to be around. Instead Jesus not only went up to and talked to her, he listened to her and even madeherbelieve that he was a prophet! Then on the third day of Vacation Bible School we learned that “Even when you don’t understand, JESUS LOVES YOU!” The children were led into our “One of A Kind Bible Adventures” room and told the story of the Last Supper; we shared a piece of pita bread with them. But the part they didn’t understand was why we told them to take off their shoes and socks, and why their crew leaders washed their feet! We helped them feel a bit like like the disciples might have felt as Jesus washed their feet. The children learned about that special night, and they learned that Jesus came to serve others, not to be served. He taught his disciples by example. It’s a lesson for the ages. There is no length to which God will not go, to find you if you are lost, or to welcome you when you come home! Jesus told that in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15.
On day four we learned that “Even though you do wrong, JESUS LOVES YOU!” Children powerfully witnessed the Garden of Gethsemane scene, then the crucifixion at Golgotha. They heard the sound of a hammer hitting wood, and they learned that Jesus died. Then they saw how friends took Jesus’ body and placed it in the tomb. I told them that I’ve done wrong things, like they’ve done wrong things, and that Jesus died to forgive my sins, and their sins. I wrote my name on the cross, and they did too. You can see the cross here in the sanctuary before you leave today. Even sins can’t separate us from God because of what Jesus did for us: he died for us to conquer sin, and then he conquered death for us when he rose from the dead! Children were encouraged to hear how to admit wrong things, and then to know that they can be forgiven.
Finally on day five we learned that “Even when you’re afraid, JESUS LOVES YOU!” We learned that the early Christians in the book of Acts were persecuted, and we taught the children that meant that people were out to find them, hurt them, or worse. The children came into our drama room in whispers, seeking to hide from people who were out to get Christians. One person like that was Saul according to Acts chapters 8 and 9. So as the crew members and crew leaders huddled in our darkened room, counting on one another for comfort, they heard footsteps! In walked Saul! It was a scary moment; what would he do to us? But Jesus himself, we found out, had changed Saul! The Saul we saw was not going to hurt Christians, he was going to thank Christians that a believer named Ananias had helped lead him to know Jesus’ love! The children might have been afraid for a moment, but they never doubted that Jesus loved them! They learned that God will never let them go! God will never let you go either! If God seems far away to you, it is not God who moved! God has the light on for you, looking for you to appear in the driveway, or the doorway, or the pathway. God cannot wait to connect with you and always wants to hear from you. So today, if you never went to Vacation Bible School, or you don’t remember what you learned: remember what we implanted in the souls of young children and in those of willing youth and adults this week: you are loved, and you will never be abandoned by God! In your darkest moments in life, do not forget what you have learned here today. It’s not something that I’ve made up, but it’s something that Jesus himself showed, and that followers like Paul have taught, for over 2000 years. This is incredible news; it is sure and certain news. So most assuredly, it is the Good News as well! God is with us! We are not alone! Thanks be to God!
Jeffrey A. Sumner June 29, 2014