April 16, 2023
• Rev. Dr. Jevon Caldwell-Gross
I began last Sunday suggesting that for the disciples they literally had the worst day of their lives and yet the next day still came. On one hand it acknowledged the present moment but also embraced the hope and possibilities of tomorrow. They had never had a day that was worse than last Friday.
I am grateful that Dr. Hansen was open to sharing his own difficult experience with us as we start a new sermon series Trust God No Matter What. I think his story gives us permission to embrace the narratives of our own faith journey. So let’s begin here, “Whats
the worst day that you can remember?” I want you to write that down. We are going to use this later.
The sermon series is based off his new book that looks at three major beliefs we have as people of faith. As you heard in the interview, the backdrop of the book is seen through the experience of the tragic death of his daughter. And the message that resulted from that tragedy is one that’s unexpected. It’s one that almost catches us off guard. The message that we begin our series is that makes this affirmation. God is good all the time.
Growing up I heard this phrase all of the time. The phrase was often used as a way of inviting the congregation into what appeared to be a rote call and response. Because we are all products of our pasts, I remember using the same affirmation when I became a pastor for weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmation,..I don’t think there was an instance where I didn’t use it.
In many ways it is the point that the psalmist is trying to drive home in our psalm today. It describes the countenance of a worshipper that is filled with joy. One that approaches God shouting for joy. This is not quiet worship. This is worship that is emotional and outwardly expressive. In fact the psalmist gives the reader the invitation and the challenge to
enter the presence of God with praise and thanksgiving.....not because everything in our lives are going good. Not because our relationships or children are doing good. Not because our heath is in good condition. Not because the church is doing good. The reason for this exuberant, vocal, and joy filled praise is because the God is good.
I find this to be quite extraordinary. The dominate character trait the psalmist lifts up is Gods “goodness.” Now let’s think about this. There are a number characteristics the psalmist could have highlighted. It might change the call and response to something like.
Good is strong all the time, and all that time God is strong. God is powerful. God is mighty. God is sovereign. God is in control. No the psalmist was quite clear. The dominate aspect of Gods being was God’s goodness. I know that goodness can seem vague, maybe that’s why the psalmist equates this to God’s steadfast love. “Steadfast love is at the core of God’s character. It is the way we are defining the word good.”
God is good even when everything else isn’t.
Here in lies the tension of this text. Do you here the tension. On hand we affirm God’s goodness. Then on the other hand, we can acknowledge everything in our lives and in the
world that isn’t going well. And so for many of us, we are trying to hold in tension the goodness in one hand and what isn’t going well in the other. Naturally, what tends to happen is that we start to question the goodness that exist in one hand because of what we hold in the other. It easy to wonder, “How do we affirm God’s goodness when its clear that that times are not always good? While the question is fair, it’s not accurate. The comparison will never work. God’s character is not to be confused with humanity’s condition. While can act within or condition, God is not limited or defined by it. The core of Gods character is not connected to latest story on the news. Before anything existed, goodness was a notable aspect of God’s character. Genesis affirms. Gods character is not
contextual. Its not impacted or influenced by the world around it. God is good even when everything else isn’t. (slide)
We often place more value on the context surrounding God’s goodness rather than the goodness that is present within the different contexts of our lives. You see the claim that God’s love reaches beyond context suggest that outpouring of goodness is not dependent on expternal factoros. Its not contenxtual. Here are the practical implications.
This idea actually reminds me of the approach that some actors take when they are getting in character for a movie. One actor that has always been fascinating to me is Daniel Day Lewis. (slide – keep up until end of paragraph) He, and several other actors, take a unique approach to playing a character where they get so invested in a character that they practically become them in their everyday lives. They pride themselves on not breaking character. In fact, When Daniel Day Lewis played Abraham Lincoln, he didn’t break
character for three months. In his private conversations, he would use the accent like he was Abraham Lincoln. He made Steven Spielberg refer to him as Mr. President. Whats so interesting is that hes played other roles that have been vastly different. Hes played roles where hes had an English accent. Hes been a war hero. Hes been a paraplegic. Hes been a villain. Hes been a victor. He has been a murderer. He was the Butcher in the Gangs of New York. Ever character was contextual. They were all dependent on the role he was playing at that time. Once he leaves the contexts all of these amazing features they go away!
But God’s character and attributes show up regardless of the scene. Its not dependent on who’s on set or who’s is directing it. At no point does God break character! We can depend on God staying in character despite the context.
This means that you cant do anything to impact or diminish God’s love or goodness your own life. This releases us from the transactional relationship we normally have with goodness and love. You cant earn it. Its not based on good behavior. Which means, there is nothing we can do to make God act of our character. The context is not just environmental but behavioral. God is good even when we are not. The bible puts it like this, there is nothing
that can separate you from the love of God. Nothing can make God step out of God’s character. There is nothing you can do, say, think, imagine, that would impact the loving nature of God’s character. Tragedy cant. Addictions cant. Bad decisions. Havent prayed in a while.
Because God’s character isn’t contextual, there is a realistic expectation of dependency that exist. It leads us to experience this love that is the same over time. Which means God character is consistent. (slide)
Listen to the Psalmist words. He uses words like forever and all generations. That’s shows consistency. Gods character is consistent. Its why we say God is good All the time. Not
sometimes. Most of the time. Often. Majority of the time.
Whenever something is consistent, it creates an expectation of dependency. It gives us something to hold on to. It gives us something in which we can ground our faith. The risk factor decreases. When something is done again and again, overtime it creates a certain expecation. We don’t even think about it or question it, we just assume that it’s going to happen. We no longer question whether something is going to happen or if it still exist when something is consistent.
When we say God is good all the time, healthy absolutes are difficult for us to grasp. Can God really be good all the time?! I remember I went to marriage seminar and the instructor talked about fighting fair. She said, most people often use absolutes when they argue and it completely breaks down all forms of communication. She advised on staying away from using words or phrase like all of the time, always, or never. You are never on time. You always leave your cloths on the floor. I have to do this all of the time. You never listen to me. What is more helpful could be words like often. Sometimes. Rarely. Occasionally.
Those are more accurate for human behavior.
We have a difficult time trusting in healthy absolutes. So, too often we place a high level of dependency on things and people with little consistency. We ground our faith in inconsistencies and then consistently question that which has already proven to be consistent. In some ways, we are more attached to things that are inconsistent than things are consistent. We learn how to consistently trust things that can be inconsistent. Let me prove it. How many of you rode in a car on the way here? How many of you have a retirement fund? How man of you have been on a plane in the last year? Technology? None of these experiences can ever promise that you will have a good experience all of the time. Cars crash. Markets crash. Plans fail. There is always something wrong with techolology. How many of you are going to stop riding in cars. How many of you are taking your money out of retirement? How many of you are boycotting planes?! Give away your iphones?
If we can trust the inconsistencies of other things in our lives, what is stopping us from believing and experiencing the consistent goodness of God’s character. God isn’t just good some of the time, a majority of the time, or even often. But this goodness and steadfast love is available 100 percent of the time.
When we undervalue the consistencies of God, we place our dependencies in underserved places.
Gods character has not expiration date.
The psalmist doesn’t just make claims on the consistency of God’s character, but also an element of time to the equation. The psalmist uses phrases like forever and all generations. That’s a long time for God to be good. Its something that we can even phathom. Its so hard to even understand how something, even God’s love could be this consistent for this length of time.. Its normally not how we approach many things in our lives. We are told nothing lasts forever. We are constantly reminded that All good things come to and end. We approach many things under the assumption that sooner or later, we know the quality will decrease in value. We know its going to run out. We know that most good things have an expiration date. (Slide)
A few weeks ago, I had one of my proudest moments as a parent. Parenting is extremely hard and I know most of time I don’t get it right, but this instance validated some of our parental decisions. I knew in this moment that we had equipped this child would some of the necessary skills to make in life. At the very moment, I knew if there was a parental score card, we just had a big win. This particular child was asked to load the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen counter. Now this particular child likes to play the music really loud while they clean, but they do a good job with cleaning, so it’s a give and take. But a few weeks ago, I heard something as a parent that deep down ive always wanted to hear. She said Alexa, play clean 90’s R and B music! My job and duties as a parent were over. I had succeeded! And just to put the icing on the cake, I heard them signing their little hearts out. It was a proud parent moment. Because these were songs I grew up on and to know they were enjoying me brought some weird since of joy.
Did you notice the appreciation of time. Just because the music was good to me in the past doesn’t mean it would be good to them in the present. And yet, what was good, they were now able to experience it in real time for themselves and by their request and line memorization it was clear to them that the music is good. And because it was good, and is good, it gives one at least a fair assumption that it has the potential to be good in the future.
In so many words, its what the psalmist is experiencing. He has no idea what the future will hold. He has no idea what generations will encounter, but past performances has revealed that God was good. The in unknown lands – God was good. Ruled by the Egyptions for centuries – God was good. Wandered in the wildnernss. Constant war with other nations. Victories. Defeats. God’s past goodness invites him to experience this good news in the present which is why hes able to say God is good. God is good now. God’s goodness is not a thing of the past, but is just a real today as it was yesterday. And there are no expectations that this goodness will ever run out. What if a generation ....
So here’s what I need you to do. Remember what you wrote or thought about at the start of the sermon? I want you to take write somewhere near it. In the same breadth that Dr. Hansen talked about the death of his daughter he talked about the goodness of God. Im not saying you have to believe it. But I am saying that you can experience it. Good is Good, all the time. All the time, God is good.