Turning over the Oriental Rug

I find it’s always helpful to put our current trials in historical context. Here’s what happened in the 1875. The largest recorded swarm of locusts in American history descended upon the Great Plains. It was 1,800 miles long and 110 miles wide from Canada down to Texas.

 Farmers just east of the Rockies began to see a cloud approaching from the west. It was glinting around the edges where the locust wings caught the light of the sun.

People said the locusts descended like a driving snow in winter. They covered everything in their path. They sounded like thunder or a train and blanketed the ground, nearly a foot deep. Trees bent over with the weight of them. They ate nearly every living piece of vegetation in their path. They ate harnesses off horses and the bark of trees, curtains, clothing that was hung out on laundry lines. They chewed on the handles of farm tools and fence posts and railings. Some farmers tried to scare away the locusts by running into the swarm, and they had their clothes eaten right off their bodies.” (From The Writer’s Almanac)

People then were surely wondering what people today are wondering: what good can come out of such an awful situation? At least some people then were also like some people today: they turned to their bibles for help and comfort.

Today we have one of the most towering promises in all of the Bible, one that speaks through the ages. It is Romans 8:28 – “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  I pray that this piece of extraordinary hope will lodge deeply in your heart today.

What is the Apostle Paul saying here? The two words I want to focus on in Paul’s promise – and what makes it much more powerful than the ever popular “everything happens for a reason” are the words “all” and “good.” And I don’t mean the other bandied about saying: “It’s all good.” Because, obviously, it is not all good. There is plenty of bad in the world, plenty of bad in our lives, and plenty of bad in us. But Paul promises that all things – even and maybe especially the bad things in our lives will work together for our good.

 Now it may be true that everything happens for a reason, but the reasons are almost always hidden from us. I’m sure you have asked over and over why something is happening, has happened to you. You can see no rhyme or reason and certainly nothing immediately identifiable as good.

I’ve been reading British Murder Mysteries this summer. It’s a good way to enter into a world that is far, far away from coronavirus. Especially in Agatha Christie, the violence is downplayed and the intrigue is front and center. And, of course, once you’ve started a murder mystery you can’t not finish the book. You’ve got to read to the end to see whodunnit. So too with our lives – at the end all will be revealed!

I’ve heard it said that right now our lives are like the bottom of an oriental rug. You can dimly make out the patterns and the colors, but not really. Only when you turn the rug over do you see how the muted design becomes rich with color and intricate handiwork. Such will be the vantage point of our lives in heaven. As Paul says elsewhere, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:4)

Civil Rights Leader John Lewis, who reached the end of his earthly life last week, tells a remarkable story of how all things worked together for good in the end. In 1961, he participated in a Freedom Rider march in South Carolina. He was viciously attacked by a Klansman. When the police arrived, Lewis refused to press charges against his attacker. He said to the officer, “We’re not here to cause trouble. We’re here so that people will love each other.”    

 48 years later, the Klansman – now a former Klansman – sought out Lewis and came to ask for his forgiveness, which John immediately granted.  In asking for forgiveness the man restated almost verbatim what Lewis had said to the officer – we’re here so that people will love each other. Nearly a half century after the brutal attack, the oriental rug was turned over for both men.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  When you feel like the swarm of locusts have descended on your life, it is deeply comforting to remember that all things work together for good.

This is not disembodied, pie in the sky “positive thinking.” Paul can say this because he understood the power of the day that we now call “Good Friday.” Our arrest, trumped up trial, torture and brutal murder of the Son of God is the very definition of bad. It turns out that at the end of the story, Jesus – innocent of all sin – was the one who was murdered.

And yet, as T. S. Eliot says “in spite of that, we call this Friday good.” Why? We call this Friday good because on the cross our sins were forever forgiven. We call this Friday good because all the bad that has ever happened or will ever happen to us and in us was absorbed by Christ on the cross. And we call this Friday on the third day Christ was risen from the dead. We call this Friday good because on the third day Christ was risen from the dead, trampling down death and giving us life everlasting.

     Amen.