Naomi was struggling with God.
“Why had this mother lost her husband and two sons? It was the end of her family as she knew it and Naomi said, ‘God has done this to me,’ ” said the Rev. Isaac J. Canales at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service.
His sermon title was “Forgiving God,” and the Scripture reading was Ruth 1:20-21. It was read in both English and Hungarian.
We all go through times like these, Canales said.
“God will allow or do something we don’t understand for his own purposes,” he said. “It might seem strange, but God is a big boy. Our planet is not even visible from the outer recesses of the Milky Way, and we are not visible from an airplane at 35,000 feet.”
It is OK to question, he said, because “God is not going anywhere; God is a big God.”
There are times when it is not the devil who tests us, but God who allows or does something. How, Canales asked, can we continue our friendship with God? Some people turn away from God and some turn closer to God during these times.
The name Naomi means “pleasant,” but she told Ruth to call her Mara, which means “bitter.” The long journey from Moab to Israel was a bitter journey, filled with reminders of the past and all that Naomi and Ruth had gone through.
“There was still hope ahead,” Canales said. “Ruth told Naomi that ‘Your God will be my God and your people will be my people.’ Naomi forgave God and continued her friendship with God. I believe you can’t be real friends unless you go through pain together.”
Canales said when he does marriage counseling, he would ask a couple if they have had a fight yet or raised their voices at each other.
“If they say no, I tell them to come back after they have fought over something and had to forgive each other,” Canales said. “Friendship is born in the crucible of pain, conflict and forgiveness.”
He gave the example of Abraham and God talking about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.
“The Lord wanted to share the breaking news, not the fake news, with his friend Abraham, before the leak, that he was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah,” Canales said. “Abraham’s nephew Lot lived there, and Abraham had many friends and business interests there.”
God and Abraham negotiated about the fate of the cities and in the end, only Lot’s family was spared.
“Abraham allowed God to be God,” Canales said, “and in spite of their painful disagreement, they stayed friends. Abraham forgave God for destroying the cities and God forgave Abraham for being annoying and loving the people too much.”
Canales used Job as another example of someone who suffered for God’s own purposes. Job’s friends told him he was suffering because he had sin somewhere inside him, and Job insisted that he was a righteous man and that God was responsible for his misfortunes.
“God does unreasonable things,” Canales said. “It was unreasonable for him to ask Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was unreasonable for the friends of the paralyzed young man to lower him through the roof for Jesus to heal him. There was no mercy at Treblinka or Auschwitz.”
Yet, God is still good and “all of us are here this morning praising God, and we have continued in friendship with him after forgiving him for the things he has allowed or done. Blessed are those who forgive God and walk hand in hand with him and allow him to be God.”
Canales described for the congregation some of the trials he had growing up — infantile paralysis, having coffee accidently spilled on him by his mother and developing gangrene, and then a kidney transplant and colostomy in later life.
“When I think of how much God has forgiven me at the cross of Jesus Christ, when I look at my wife and see the mighty things God has done in my life, when I hear the birds in the Chautauqua morning or look at the snowball hydrangeas,” he said, “my blessings far outweigh the trials of our friendship.”
The Rev. John Morgan presided. Bettina Deák and Gyula Homoki, both from Ukraine, read the Scripture. Deák is a recent graduate of the Ferenc Rakoczi II Transcarpathian Hungarian Institute with a degree in English language and literature with plans to become a teacher of English. Her band, Almanach, sets famous Hungarian poems to music. She is the recipient of the Mary Lowe Dickinson Scholarship. Homoki is studying for a masters of divinity at the Reformed Theological Academy in Sárospatak, Hungary. He is a member of TeSó (Bro), the official blogsite of the Christian youth organization of Transcarpathia, where his reading and writing skills are in great demand. He is the recipient of the Rev. Dr. Robert M. Franklin Scholarship. The prelude music was “Trio” by Joseph Musser and “Dance of the Polyps” from “Noble Dinner Music” by Robert Delanoff. Barbara Hois, flute, Rebecca Scarnati, oboe, and Joseph Musser, piano, presented the preludes. The Motet Choir sang “The Image of God” by Craig Courtney, written in honor of a young man with Down syndrome. Jared Jacobsen, piano, and Barbara Hois, flute, accompanied the choir. Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy and the Lois Raynow Department of Religion Fund provide support for this week’s services.